Rosenstein Warns Cities: If You Try Legal Heroin Injection Sites, We’ll Prosecute You

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein warned American cities to expect a federal crackdown if they try legal drug injection sites.

Several states across the country have considered legalizing safe injection sites, where addicts can bring their own drugs and inject them under supervision from trained medical staff. Philadelphia and San Francisco are the closest in the country to adopting the sites, saying they will help reduce the number of overdose deaths. The Department of Justice remains skeptical, however, and Rosenstein’s comments to NPR Thursday show the department is ready to enforce federal law should cities move forward.

“Just because someone tells you in San Francisco that San Francisco is not going to prosecute you for doing something, that does not make it legal. It remains illegal after federal law,” Rosenstein said. “If anybody thinks this is a good idea, there’s a way to accomplish that: try to persuade the U.S. Congress to legalize it.”

The California State Legislature passed a safe injection site bill Wednesday, and Philadelphia has intended to open one for months. Should the sites move forward, cities could face a standoff with the federal government similar to the battle over immigration sanctuary jurisdictions.

“One obvious problem with injection sites is that they are illegal. It is a federal felony to maintain any location for the purpose of facilitating illicit drug use. Violations are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, hefty fines and forfeiture of the property used in the criminal activity,” Rosenstein wrote in The New York Times Monday. “Because federal law clearly prohibits injection sites, cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action.”

One of the major selling points for the injection sites is that doctors will have information about treatment programs on hand to provide addicts with, potentially increasing the number of addicts who choose to attempt quitting. (RELATED: Drug Bust Yields Enough Fentanyl To Kill 26 Million People)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, racking up more deaths than the entire Vietnam War. The number represents a 7 percent increase over 2016. The states with the biggest spikes in fatalities were Nebraska, North Carolina, New Jersey and Indiana. Those states experienced drug overdose death rate increases from 15 to 33 percent. The nationwide increase was not seen in all states, however. Wyoming, Utah and Oklahoma saw decreases of up to 33 percent.

Many of the deaths are due to the increasing appearance of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often mixed with the far less potent heroin. Considering that as little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl is enough to kill an adult male, unwitting addicts who inject the mixture are almost certain to fatally overdose.

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