Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Safe injection sites are a well-meaning, but flawed solution to the opioid crisis | Dom Giordano

It appears that people who favor safe injection sites view their approach as kinder than the treatment of people addicted to crack cocaine, but opponents argue that it still promotes use of an illegal substance.

Left: Sister Mary Scullion, Right: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
Left: Sister Mary Scullion, Right: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRead moreStaff/AP

In the past, I have dismissed the safe injection site movement to combat the opioid crisis as the next progressive scheme of Mayor Kenney and his gaggle of progressive wonks and activists. Even Kenney, though, was cautious enough to farm out implementation of a site whenever it is built and operated with private dollars.

Because of this, a new coalition led by former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has surfaced through a new nonprofit called Safehouse.

>> READ MORE: What is a safe injection site? 

I can't dismiss Rendell as someone driven by extreme left-wing views. However, he has a track record in this area. He supported violating the law by endorsing the needle exchange programs in Philadelphia during the AIDS crisi. This safe injection site is an extension the former mayor's philosophy on these issues.

Clearly, the most troubling voice behind this new group is Sister Mary Scullion, arguably the country's most prominent advocate for the homeless. It is not arguable that she is a saint living among us. I've had her as a guest at an event that I hosted, and I have followed closely her successes in Philadelphia. Despite all this, I still think this safe injection site plan is a well-meaning but deeply flawed response to the opioid crisis.

A large part of the push for these sites seems to be a form of virtue signaling, in which supporters feel they have the high ground because this approach offers a kindness to addicts. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, one of the smartest guys in government, begs to differ. When the Philadelphia safe injection site was proposed, Shapiro said: "There is no safe way to inject heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil. These are dangerous drugs with devastating consequences."

This view was echoed by U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who said that if Philadelphia opens a safe injection site, the federal government would seek legal punishment almost immediately. To some pundits and supporters, this has led to false Philadelphia bravado of saying essentially, "We dare them to arrest us."

Before that kind of showdown happens, at least two major issues must be overcome. First, columnist Solomon Jones has written that the push for these sites is driven by the fact that the lion's share of overdose victims are white. In a recent column, he called these sites "glorified drug houses for addicts" and contrasted this benevolent approach to what minorities faced during the crack cocaine era. I think his view has significant support and will make it much harder to get the public behind this site.

Jones' view also will drive the big issue of where this so called safehouse will be located. Early indicators are that it will be placed in Kensington, based on the fact that many of the people with addictions have gathered there, but the legitimate question will be asked as to why such facilities are always placed in poorer neighborhoods.

>> READ MORE: How can Ed Rendell support safe injection sites when he locked up crack users as district attorney? | Solomon Jones

What really was striking about the group behind Safehouse were the extensive answers about its rules and regulations. The people involved strike me as big-government types who like regulations and government restrictions on almost any activity. Yet they deem themselves arbiters of how this dangerous and illegal process will work.

Doesn't this amplify why this is out of bounds? Even with a secular saint such as Rendell and a religious one such as Scullion on the board, what gives them the right to do this?

Of course, their virtue shield is that they are public health warriors who are saving lives and that federal laws don't apply to them. As far as local police, they seem to think that they are above them and that they will force Police Commissioner Richard Ross to coach his officers to deal with all the problems this site will draw. How would you like his job?

Finally, how long will Mayor Kenney be able to be on the sidelines?

I like his recent executive actions that force more focus and resources on the problem. This aggressive approach is the way to go. I'm hoping more Philadelphians will focus on this scourge and the moral questions it provokes.

Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). @DomShow1210