HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) – As the nation continues to struggle with an overdose crisis that reached a record-high in 2021, more states are exploring ways to prevent fatal drug overdoses. Some states are considering safe injection, or overdose prevention sites, which are indoor spaces where individuals can use their own drugs under clinical supervision.
A handful of sites currently operate in the U.S., including in New York City. Some state legislatures are considering whether to allow them; however, Pennsylvania’s is pushing to prohibit them.
“We really can’t afford, right now when we’re in a crisis of this magnitude, to shut the door to anything that is effective and works,” said Senator Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia). “I just feel like banning them and the possibility of exploring them at all anywhere in the Commonwealth is flies against the face of everything that we know about these sites as potential tools in reducing harm,” he added.
Sen. Saval voted against SB 165 and believes the legislation is based on a misconception of what overdose prevention centers do, like connect individuals to treatment, among other benefits.
“They have about 30 years or so of public health data in supporting their efficacy, in keeping people alive, connecting people with treatment, lowering drug related crime and syringe litter,” said Saval. “Banning a tool that could help change that, that could help save people’s lives, I think would really set us back,” he added.
SB 165 passed the Senate 41-9 with support from all Republicans and 13 of the 22 Senate Democrats. Some lawmakers who voted for it say it’s a common-sense bill and that the sites would do more harm than good.
“This is a life-or-death situation. Having these sites set up, where they can just continue to use more and more drugs is not going to save them, they are going to die of an overdose sooner or later,” said Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie). “This might prolong it a few weeks, but it’s not really helping them,” he added.
Laughlin says safe injection sites also have an impact on individual neighborhoods and the community as a whole.
“There’re people who pack lunch and go to work that live in these communities that deserve harm reduction, too. They don’t need to be robbed on their way home from work,” said Laughlin. “There’re school kids that have to walk through this. It’s not just about the person that’s addicted, it’s about the whole community when we talk about harm reduction,” Laughlin added.
Democratic Senator Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) is the sponsor of SB 165.
She says safe injection sites are counter-productive to the overall goal of reducing overdose deaths, because they would prolong a system of state-sponsored addiction and create an environment that could harm the individuals or hard-working Pennsylvanian communities.
If the bill passes the House, it will likely receive a signature from Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro who recently voiced his opposition to safe injection sites.
“I do not support safe injection sites here in the city of Philadelphia or anywhere else,” said Shapiro at a press event in Philadelphia on Apr. 18.