Amid an opioid epidemic claiming more than a thousand lives in the city, Philadelphia is taking a drastic measure that no other city in America has ever done before.
On Tuesday afternoon, city officials announced its support for the establishment of Comprehensive User Engagement Sites where individuals can inject opioids under the supervision of a licensed professional.
These facilities are expected to ensure that medical response is readily available in case of an overdose and to facilitate treatment for opioid dependence.
"We are facing an epidemic of historic proportions," said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley during a news conference at City Hall. "The people in the city of Philadelphia, our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our children, are dying. And they don't need to die. And we have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent those people from dying."
What Are Comprehensive User Engagement Sites?
In Vancouver, these facilities are known as legal supervised injection sites. There are currently two operating in the Canadian city providing injection services to its patients, as well as protection from federal drug laws.
Vancouver Coastal Health believes that supervised injection sites are beneficial for the community and its residents. They prevent drug dependents from transmitting infectious diseases and improve public order by reducing opioid administration on the streets.
In April 2016, British Columbia declared a Public Health Emergency as the province struggled with a similar opioid crisis.
Before such move, approximately 30 overdose interventions are reported each month. Additional information says the figure has already improved after the declaration, with eight overdose interventions happening every day.
As part of their research, Philadelphia city officials visited a supervised injection site in Vancouver and commissioned a report analyzing data gathered across Europe and Canada.
The report claims that with just a single site, the city will save up to 75 lives per year and millions of dollars in government funds while getting the injection of painkillers off the streets.
Philadelphia will not operate these facilities, instead, city officials are encouraging private organizations to pursue their development.
Legal Supervised Injection Sites Are Not A Solution, Critics Say
On the contrary, this shocking announcement elicited a slew of fiery criticism within hours. Among its sharpest critics is Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro who asserted that there is "no safe way" to administer opioids as they will always bring devastating consequences.
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai also called the proposal a "stark violation" of federal law saying that the city should be issued a "cease-and-desist order."
In 2016, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health reports a total of 907 opioid-related deaths, with a hundred or more recorded in the months of November and December.