- Leaders in Philadelphia announced their intent to open at least one "safe injection site," where opioid users could inject drugs under medical supervision, according to The Inquirer and others. Leaders are calling the facility a Comprehensive User Engagement Site (CUES) and say that it would be just one aspect of a greater opioid mitigation plan.
- Such facilities provide clean needles and safe needle disposal, as well as healthcare including wound care, HIV testing and addiction counseling. They also have doctors or nurses who can administer an opioid antidote if necessary, to save drug users in danger of dying from an overdose.
- The city would not operate the facility itself. It is seeking outside operators to establish at least location.
Philadelphia reportedly has the highest rate of opioid deaths in any major U.S. city. Last year, more than 1,200 people died from opioid overdoses, which is one-third more than in 2016. That's also about four times higher than the homicide rate.
In October, President Trump named the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, which is a status that's good for 90 days. It's a short-term designation usually reserved for natural disasters or infectious diseases. Last week, Health and Human Services signed a 90-day extension for the order, to continue to bring federal, Congressional and local attention to the matter.
Other cities besides Philadelphia are scrambling to find ways to curb opioid deaths and addiction. This week New York sued major pharmaceutical companies for $500 million for their role in contributing to opioid deaths. Police officers in departments across the country are now carrying Narcan or similar drugs that they can administer to reverse an overdose. Hospitals are doing the same when overdosing patients are brought in.
The problem is widespread and not limited to large cities. Cary, NC, a town with a population of 162,000 people, is looking into distributing robots into sewers to detect opioids. The data collected by the robots could help leaders devise targeted solutions for fighting the city's opioid problem.
Philadelphia is the second U.S. city to announce its intent to establish safe injection sites. Seattle is slated to spend $2 million to set up a safe injection location this year, although it has been met with much controversy. San Francisco and Denver have previously thrown around the idea as well, but so far no such facility exists in the United States.
Cities in Canada and Europe have had these types of facilities and consider them successful in preventing overdose deaths and reducing harm both to drug users and the greater public. Philadelphia leaders referenced an analysis that indicates one safe injection site in their city could prevent up to 76 overdose deaths each year.