The Philadelphia City Council overwhelmingly approved what amounts to a ban on facilities where people can consume illegal drugs under the watch of workers trained to reverse overdoses, the Washington Post reports. The council’s decision may stymie a long-held plan by a nonprofit organization to establish an overdose prevention center in a city hard hit by drug deaths. The 13-1 vote underscores tensions over the concept of such facilities, which have been slow to garner support in U.S. cities because of concerns they run afoul of federal law and fears they encourage drug use, blight and crime. “We have a massive overdose crisis on our hands, and yet we have a city banning an intervention before we even know how it may work in that location. I’d hate for this to become normal,” said Brandon Marshall, an epidemiologist at Brown University’s School of Public Health taking part in a federally funded study on the impact of overdose prevention sites in New York.
Those New York facilities are the only ones in the nation. Since the sites opened nearly two years ago, staff members say they have intervened in more than 1,000 overdoses. In Rhode Island, a state-authorized facility is slated to open next year. At the sites, users can inject or ingest their own drugs — such as heroin or fentanyl — under the eye of staffers trained to use oxygen or naloxone, the overdose reversal medication. Efforts to establish overdose prevention centers have been complicated by a decades-old federal law, sometimes called the “crack house statute.” The Philadelphia council’s measure prohibits supervised injection facilities in 10 of the council’s 11 districts. The measure now goes to the office of Mayor Jim Kenney. He did not indicate whether he would approve the ban but stressed his continued support for overdose prevention centers. The council has the votes to override Kenney if he chooses to veto the legislation.