In a decision that could be of interest to municipalities seeking to combat the growing drug epidemic, a federal court in Pennsylvania recently ruled that safehouses do not violate the Controlled Substances Act when they provide facilities where drugs are used under monitored, sterile conditions. U.S. v. Safehouse.
Safehouse, a nonprofit directed at fighting drug addiction and overdose, sought to open an “Overdose Prevention Site” to offer a variety of services aimed at preventing the spread of disease, administering medical care, and encouraging drug users to enter treatment. Specifically, the Safehouse facility plans to offer medication-assisted treatment, medical care, referrals to a variety of other services, and the use of medically supervised consumption and observation rooms. Drug users who choose to use the medically supervised consumption room will have access to sterilized consumption equipment and fentanyl test strips. Safehouse staff members supervise the participants’ consumption and are ready to intervene with reversal agents to prevent fatal overdose. Safehouse staff does not, however, handle or provide any of the drugs to the participants.
After Safehouse announced its plans, the federal government filed a lawsuit claiming that the on-site consumption of illegal drugs at Safehouse’s facility violated the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits any property owner from maintaining a place that facilitates the use of a controlled substance. On October 2, 2019, a federal judge ruled in favor of Safehouse and rejected the government’s contentions. In that ruling, the judge stated that the “the ultimate goal of Safehouse’s proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it.” The judge reasoned that the stated purpose for Safehouse’s facility was to administer medical care and encourage drug treatment by connecting drug users with social services, and that none of these purposes are consistent with a criminal intent to facilitate drug use.
Post Authored by Rain Montero & Julie Tappendorf