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PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — A Philadelphia nonprofit, Safehouse, says it plans to open the city’s first supervised drug injection site with the help of former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

The site, which would serve as a safe space for people to use drugs under medical supervision, could also be the first of its kind in the country.

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Supervised drug injection sites are currently illegal under federal law.

Rendell, 74, said Wednesday that he would support the effort even if it meant facing federal charges.

Safehouse is still working to raise money to open the safe injection site despite federal and state laws that prohibit them.

Rendell bucked similar regulations when he was Philadelphia mayor in the 1990s and officially sanctioned the city’s first needle exchange program, inviting the then-state attorney general to arrest him at City Hall.

The former governor said that he is still willing to go to prison Wednesday.

“If I thought for a minute that safe injection sites would create new addicts, I wouldn’t be a part of it. I see the ability to save lives and get people who are addicts exposed to treatment,” he said. “Having me involved, I think it reduces the chances that there will be arrests. It’s not likely, but it’s somewhat possible they will come and arrest me.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials announced in January that they would support a private entity operating and funding safe injection sites. Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate of any large U.S. city, with more than 1,200 fatal overdoses in 2017.

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Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, however, had a different view. He said he will decline to prosecute workers or volunteer medical students who set up “a responsibly run harm reduction center,” saying there is a justification he could see under the doctrine of self-defense.

However, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has made clear that he is not sold on the idea of the sites. He has said previously he would keep an open mind.

Members of the treatment and recovery community have largely shifted to be in favor of the sites, which have operated in several European countries, Australia and Canada for years, because they often offer people counseling and options for treatment if they choose it.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)