Disposable syringe in the row

(Photo by alan64, istockphoto)

U.S. Attorney for Colorado Jason R. Dunn has expressed his support for a Philadelphia-based appeals court’s decision deeming supervised injection sites unlawful.

“I commend and agree with the federal appellate court’s decision finding that facilities opened with the purpose of having visitors use heroin and fentanyl are doing so in violation of federal law,” Dunn said in a Jan. 13 statement.  “As I have said previously, the idea of a government sponsored drug house is an anathema to the principle that government’s primary duty is to do no harm.”

On Jan. 12, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found, by a 2-1 vote, that a 1986 law passed during the crack epidemic forbade the opening of a first-in-the-nation site to provide medical supervision to drug users in Philadelphia.

“Congress has made it a crime to open a property to others to use drugs,” wrote Judge Stephanos Bibas.

In recent years, efforts to permit a similar facility in Colorado stalled, as the issue "continued to be a political target,” in the words of Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.

According to the Harm Reduction Action Center, based in Denver, there is a fatal overdose in the state approximately every 9½ hours. Supervised sites, which are in use in other countries, prevent fatal overdoses and reduce the spread of disease.

“Really, this is a larger community effort: We want to make sure people are safer and healthier,” noted executive director Lisa Raville on the group’s website. “The problem is, we are able to give them all the tools to inject drugs safely except the place to do it safely, and that means it is usually rushed and hurried and in an alley or a public bathroom. 

Dunn, however, viewed safe injection sites as incompatible with combating addiction to opioids and use of other harmful narcotics.

“Such facilities would only serve to further the illicit drug trade and result in a greater number of overdose deaths, not less,” he argued. A 2018 paper from the research firm the RAND Corporation reported it was difficult to conclude the effectiveness of supervised injection sites given available data, but found the facilities did prevent infections and other diseases stemming from unhygienic drug use.

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