Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate of any major American city. On Tuesday, the city announced it would support the opening of sites where people can inject drugs under medical supervision. Only weeks after Gov. Wolf declared a state of emergency on the opioid epidemic, city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, "We are facing an epidemic of historic proportions. The people of the city Philadelphia — our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our children are dying. And they don't need to die."

Mayor Jim Kenney commented about the announcement at a separate event. "My issue is more of compassion, and trying to make sure that people don't inject themselves and fall out on the street and die."

Although the precise locations of Philadelphia sites have not been established, the city could be the first in the nation to host an officially sanctioned safe injection site. The model has sparked controversy, with critics arguing the sites would become hubs for drug users and enable addiction.  Other cities, including Seattle and Baltimore, are also exploring the idea, but Philadelphia's announcement Tuesday put the city at the forefront of confronting the opioid crisis, which killed an estimated 1,200 people last year — a rate four times higher than the city's homicide rate.

Philadelphia officials have been debating and researching the idea for nearly a year. In May, a mayoral task force on the opioid crisis recommended serious consideration of a safe injection site, as overdose deaths skyrocketed and crowds of people using heroin flooded streets and parks in Kensington, the heart of the city's opioid crisis.