Opioid Crisis Creates Novel Approaches

The Opioid Crisis continues to rage across the United States, affecting millions of Americans, regardless of race or background.  Not only has this crisis resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of overdose-related deaths, but it has also created an increase in the types of secondary issues that arise from the use of dirty needles.

Philadelphia is looking to become the first US city to establish a so-called “safe injection site”.  Safe injection sites are nothing new – they exist in Canada and Europe – and the goal is to allow individuals who are addicted to illegal drugs to consume those drugs in a location where a doctor supervises them, with access to anti-overdose medication, and can have access to clean needles as well as a safe place to dispose of used ones.

Advocates of these sites argue that they greatly reduce the risk of death from overdose, reduce a user’s exposure to diseases commonly transmitted in these populations through dirty needles, such as HIV and hepatitis, and keep the paraphernalia of drug use (used needles) from endangering others when not properly disposed of.  The opioid crisis, they argue, won’t be solved in a day, and risk mitigation could be a good first step in the battle.

Detractors argue that these sites do nothing to change the habits of users and do not address the root cause of the addiction, whatever that may be for a given individual.  Providing a safe site to “get high” simply enables an addict – there is no real benefit.  Also, there is the fact that often, the drugs being used are illegal, and there has been no real statement or consensus at a federal or state level as it relates to the risk of arrest for a person using at a safe injection site.  What if you’re on the way to the site and you are arrested and charged with possession?  What if federal agents raid a state-sanctioned safe injection site?  The legal questions are novel and unlikely to be answered clearly anytime soon.

“With safe injection sites becoming a real likelihood, the legal ramifications to those taking advantage of them have to be considered,” said Amato Sanita, a Criminal Defense Attorney in Philadelphia.    “Anyone considering using such a site needs to be aware of the fact that while it may be safe, it’s not lawless, and they are subject to the same laws as any other member of the public.  Another point to remember is that just because a state chooses to overlook the application of criminality to say, using heroin at a safe injection site, the Federal government has its own laws and may not be so willing to turn a blind eye.”

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