FARRELL: Safe Injection Sites Endanger Communities

Shannon Farrell Contributor
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that safe injection sites will lead to increased drug dealing around the sites and endanger local communities. You can find a counterpoint here, where Cato Institute Research Associate Jalisa Clark, that safe injection sites can help reduce overdose deaths due to opioids and crime associated with drug abuse.

Federal law plainly prohibits supervised drug consumption sites — and for good reason. The relevant statute prohibits the opening of “any place” for the “purpose of using controlled substances.” By definition, drug consumption sites are places that would exist for the purpose of allowing individuals to use controlled substances. While I do not doubt the virtuous motives of their supporters, the fact is that supervised consumption sites are illegal.

In fact, that federal law, which is commonly referred to as the “Crack-House Statute,” was adopted to prevent precisely the sort of harm that supervised injections sites would inevitably wreak on the surrounding neighborhoods. Congress passed the law not only to reduce illegal drug use, but also to protect our communities. The congressional record leading up to the law’s passage is full of statements about the devastating effect on a community when illegal drug use is concentrated in a single location.

That is common sense: When a facility intentionally attracts drug users, it also inevitably attracts those who seek to prey on the victims of addiction. And it is no secret that an influx of drug dealers around these facilities would increase the risk of violence and the spread of further addiction within the communities that would be forced to serve as the laboratories of this dangerous social experiment.

I represent one of those communities. I have witnessed the devastating effects of the drug epidemic, and I wholeheartedly share the desire to address the crisis — including through novel and creative means. But supervised consumption sites are not the solution. In fact, they would only make things worse.

For starters, how could the areas surrounding these facilities even be policed?  If their purpose is to invite in drug users, then necessarily there would have to be some sort of law-free buffer surrounding the consumption site, where drug possession laws would not be enforced. But that will only further encourage drug dealers to flock into the neighborhood.  Children will become targets of those vultures or, worse yet, collateral damage in their violent turf battles. Innocent and law-abiding neighbors will suddenly be forced to deal with the anarchy that would undoubtedly ensue.

That is why the idea has been met with swift and widespread uproar in the communities where the sites have been proposed.  Here, in Philadelphia, when the group seeking to open these sites unexpectedly announced that it would soon open a facility in South Philly — in the same building as a daycare no less — the outcry was so overwhelming that the landlord for the facility backed out and the organization was forced to scrap its plans. That is the same reaction that the group received in the North Philadelphia neighborhood where I live and where similar plans had been put forth. And opposition is spreading as more communities fear that they will be the unfortunate landing spot.

To be clear, that opposition is not because community members lack empathy for the individuals suffering from addiction or a blindness to the illegal drug crisis. Quite the opposite: These communities unfortunately have experienced those heartbreaking tragedies first-hand.  Instead, community opposition to supervised consumption sites reflects our belief that there are better and less dangerous solutions.

Rather than promoting illegal drug use and concentrating it in certain unfortunate neighborhoods, we should instead use our resources to fight addiction through prevention and recovery programs and by increasing support for law enforcement in the affected areas.

Shannon Farrell is the President of the Harrowgate Civic Association. Harrowgate is a neighborhood in the northern part of Philadelphia that has been floated as a potential location for a safe injection site.