Pa. Senate votes to ban supervised injection sites 

‘We cannot allow spaces for supervised substance use to permeate throughout the commonwealth,’ Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, said

By: - May 1, 2023 6:00 pm
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Legislation banning supervised injection sites statewide has cleared the Pennsylvania Senate.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled upper chamber voted 41-9 on Monday to approve a bill outlawing places where people may inject or use illicit drugs while supervised by medical professionals who could intervene in the event of an overdose.

The bill, introduced by three Democrats and three Republicans, would amend the state’s Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the sites, which federal law already considers illegal. An individual violating the proposed change would face up to 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, or both. Organizations would be subject to a $2 million penalty.

“Addiction is a devastating, gut-wrenching experience. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, said on the Senate floor. “But while addiction persists, and drug use continues in our nation, we cannot allow spaces for supervised substance use to permeate throughout the commonwealth.”

Tartaglione said the legislation brings Pennsylvania in line with existing federal law.

Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, who introduced the bill, said that discussions around harm reduction should go beyond addiction.

“We also have to look to the broader community: the citizens that pack a lunch and go to work in those communities where these drug hotspots are located,” Laughlin said. “We have to think about the school kids that have to walk past these things and think about harm reduction for them as well.”

Sens. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, and Judy Schwank, D-Berks, spoke against the bill, saying that outlawing safe injection sites would “negate” a harm reduction technique.

“These spaces are tools with a single purpose: to reduce harm and promote health for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society,” Saval said. “If the fear is that overdose prevention centers will encourage drug use, this is baseless.”

Saval, citing research conducted at supervised injection sites in Canada and Australia, noted that the programs reduce fatal overdoses, decrease the burden on emergency services, and facilitate entrance into treatment programs.

“It is time that we acknowledge overdose prevention centers to be the life-saving spaces they are proven to be and incorporate them as tools in our public health,” Saval said. “SB 165 closes the door.”

He also noted that a supervised injection site in New York City reversed hundreds of overdoses in its first year.

“We are in no position in this commonwealth to eliminate any possible harm reduction techniques,” Schwank said. “We are just still too far behind in this crisis. We are running to catch up, and yet, we can seemingly not get our arms around it.”

During a stop in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood last month, Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said he firmly opposes supervised injection sites. He said his administration is studying potential outcomes of a settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the nonprofit Safehouse, which has been trying to establish a site in Philadelphia for years, and what options Shapiro has as governor to take action.

Alongside Tartaglione, Sens. Jimmy Dillon and Sen. Sharif Street, both Philadelphia Democrats, filed an amicus brief in the case between the U.S. Department of Justice and Safehouse, hoping to prevent the nonprofit from opening an injection site.

The legislation goes to the House, now controlled by a narrow Democratic majority, for consideration.

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