This story was updated with additional information from the Medical Society at 11 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 25.
Touting research that says they’ll save save lives and get opioid users into treatment, the trade association representing Pennsylvania’s physicians announced their public support last week for “safe injection” sites where opioid users can use illicit drugs under medical supervision.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society voted at a meeting in October to support the safe injection pilot program, including a plan to launch the nation’s first supervised injection facility in Philadelphia, according to a press release shared with the Capital-Star on Monday.
“We owe it to those suffering from the disease of addiction to carefully examine proposals that may reduce harm and buy time for them to get into treatment,” the society’s president Lawrence John said in a statement.
The goals of supervised injection sites are to reduce the spread of needle-borne diseases and viruses and to help people reduce drug use.
In Philadelphia, these sites could save 24 to 72 lives a year and $74 million in health care costs, according to Thomas Jefferson University and Main Line Health System research cited by the Medical Society.
The trade organization also said that similar programs operating since the 1980s in Europe, Australia and Canada have a proven track record of reducing overdose deaths, disease transmission and demands on emergency departments.
Dean Scantling, a Philadelphia physician and Medical Society member, pushed for the organization to change its position on injection sites after he lost a family member to an opioid overdose, according to the press release.
“These sites are well studied and successful across the globe but have been delayed by American politics while our patients die every day,” Scantling said in a statement. “Victims of the opioid crisis and their families have been looking to us for help while the courts look to us for guidance. This is our chance to definitively give it to them and help bring safe injection sites to America.”
The announcement marks the group’s first entry into a fiery public debate over the proposed injection sites, which have drawn the opposition of federal law enforcement agents and state lawmakers who represent Philadelphia.
The pilot programs have the backing of the American Medical Society, according to NPR.
A federal judge ruled last month that the Philadelphia non-profit Safehouse wouldn’t violate the U.S. Controlled Substances Act if it proceeded with plans to open the nation’s first supervised injection site in the city’s Kensington neighborhood — one of the hardest-hit areas in the national opioid epidemic.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney supports safe injection sites. But some community groups in Kensington have rallied against its proposed location.
Last month, two state senators representing Philadelphia introduced a bill that would block safe injection sites from opening in Pennsylvania.