Updated at 7:30 p.m. Thursday: Constitution Health Plaza has canceled plans to open the safe injection site at the South Philadelphia location.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) – A federal prosecutor has filed an appeal to stop the opening of a safe injection site in South Philadelphia. U.S. Attorney William McSwain released a statement Thursday, saying “the current dispute over injection sites should be settled in the courts, not in the streets.”
McSwain has also asked U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh to stay his decision while the appeal unfolds.
The announcement Wednesday that nonprofit group Safehouse planned to open the site at a medical complex in South Philadelphia led area residents to shout down former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and other organizers at a news conference.
“The sad fact is that Safehouse’s secretive, haphazard ‘plan’ has not been vetted with any of the affected neighborhood residents, community groups, city council members, state representatives or state senators. It is being unfairly foisted on them on the assumption that they don’t matter,” McSwain, a Republican appointed by President Trump, said in a statement Thursday, a day after asking for the stay.
Some South Philadelphia residents are angered by plans and lack of transparency for the safe injection site, which would be the first in the U.S.
Supporters believe the plan could save lives as the city grapples with about 1,100 overdose deaths each year. However, McSwain and many of the neighbors fear the program would only encourage illegal drug use.
Under the Safehouse plan, people could bring drugs to the clinic-like setting, use them in a partitioned bay and get medical help if they overdose. They would also have access to counseling, treatment and other health services.
Safehouse organizers said that about one person dies of an overdose each week in South Philadelphia.
The opening has been on hold for much of the past year while McHugh held evidentiary hearings to determine whether the plan violates a 1980s-era drug law known as the “crackhouse statute.” McSwain believes it does and sued the Safehouse organizers, who along with Rendell include Ronda Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. McHugh found otherwise.
“The ultimate goal of Safehouse’s proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it, and accordingly, (the law) does not prohibit Safehouse’s proposed conduct,” McHugh wrote in a preliminary ruling last fall that he affirmed Tuesday.
City council is meeting Thursday afternoon to talk about it.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)