August 30, 2018
The U.S. Department of Justice will take swift action against any safe injection site that opens in Philadelphia or elsewhere in the United States, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday.
Philadelphia officials have pledged to welcome any private company that wants to establish a safe injection site where drug users can take opioids under the supervision of medical personnel and without fear of arrest.
But in an op-ed published Monday by The New York Times, Rosenstein promised a "swift and aggressive action" from the federal government should a city approve a safe injection site. He reiterated that threat Wednesday when speaking with WHYY's Bobby Allyn.
"They're not just handing out (clean) needles – they're actually inviting people to bring these illegal drugs into their places of business," Rosenstein said. "If you start down that road, you're really going to undermine the deterrent message that I think is so important in order to prevent people from becoming addicted in the future."
Though a municipality may decline to prosecute drug activity within a safe injection site, Rosenstein stressed that the drug activity remains illegal under federal law. The U.S. government has two options – prosecute anyone found violating the law or file legal action to halt a safe injection site.
"Both of those tools are available," Rosenstein told WHYY. "If the situation arose, where we determined that somebody was in violation of the law, we'd have to evaluate the facts and make a determination of what's the appropriate approach to take."
Rosenstein declined to specify who might face arrest should a safe injection site open. But he urged anyone considering opening a site to consult with their lawyers about the legal ramifications.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner endorsed safe injection sites while on the campaign trail last year. In January, a group of city officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney, also announced their support after a city task force recommended a safe injection site as a solution to Philly's opioid crisis.
The city itself will not operate any safe injection sites, but simply allow a private one to function, city officials previously said.
The task force views them as an opportunity to reduce fatal overdoses, prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and help people find treatment for their addiction.
Rosenstein, a suburban Philadelphia native, views them as facilitating drug abuse and bad news for the communities where they operate.
"...Injection sites destroy the surrounding community," Rosenstein wrote in the New York Times. "When drug users flock to a site, drug dealers follow, bringing with them violence and despair, posing a danger to neighbors and law-abiding visitors."
"To end the drug crisis," he added, "we should educate everyone about the dangers of opioid drugs, help drug users get treatment and aggressively prosecute criminals who supply the deadly poison....Cities and counties should join us and fight drug abuse, not subsidize it."