Philadelphia passed a bill last week banning supervised drug consumption sites across most of the city in the latest attempt by a Democrat-run city to curb rampant public drug use.
The Philadelphia City Council approved the ban Thursday in a 13-1 vote during a heated meeting where dozens of people on both sides of the issue showed up to cheer and heckle speakers.
The bill now heads to Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, who supports supervised drug consumption sites and may refuse to sign it. However, the city council passed the bill with enough of a majority to override a veto should the mayor issue one.
The legislation would update zoning codes to ban supervised drug consumption sites in nine of the city’s ten districts, including in the Kensington neighborhood, where homeless people dealing and shooting up drugs line the streets.
Supervised drug consumption sites involve allowing people to bring their own drugs and take them under supervision of clinicians to prevent an overdose. Such sites often offer addicts supplies like clean needles and information about addiction treatment as well.
The bill was drafted by Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, who represents the Kensington area, home to one of the country’s largest open-air drug markets. She said most of the people opposing the bill do not live in the neighborhoods struggling the most with drug addiction.
“I will not apologize for making the voice of the people who live in my community a priority,” Lozada said at Thursday’s council meeting. “I would like those of you who don’t live in the Kensington community to be respectful of those individuals who are raising their families there and who experience and are impacted by what they go through every day.”
Philadelphia’s drug overdose crisis peaked in 2021 when 1,276 people fatally overdosed. Since then, harrowing scenes of addicts with skin lesions, high and doubled over have continued to come out of the city.
The Kensington neighborhood is also struggling with an influx of a new drug, Xylazine, called “tranq” on the street, a cheap, flesh-rotting horse tranquilizer flooding the U.S. illegal drug market.
Xylazine is mass-manufactured in China and causes skin lesions that look like flesh is being eaten off. Drug dealers frequently mix Xylazine with other drugs, and Narcan, the emergency opioid reverse medicine, does not work on “tranq” since Xylazine is not an opioid.
Philadelphia’s move comes just one week after Portland, another city struggling to address its public drug use crisis, passed a ban on using hard drugs on public property.
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Oregon’s state legislature would have to approve Portland’s ban, however, meaning the state would have to reverse its recent decision to decriminalize hard drug use.
Portland’s emergency ordinance attaches criminal penalties to drug use on public property, namely up to six months in jail or a $500 fine.
In 2021, New York City became the first city to allow supervised drug consumption sites. In the first three months, the city’s two locations in upper Manhattan reportedly saw about 800 people who made 9,500 visits. Staff claim they have prevented more than 1,000 overdoses since the sites opened. However, at one point, two regulars of the sites died when they overdosed elsewhere while the sites were closed at night.
Last year, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed certain California cities to open supervised drug injection sites, saying that while he supports “harm reduction strategies,” he was worried about “a world of unintended consequences” from approving unlimited sites.
In 2022, more than 110,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S., according to federal data.
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