The Department of Justice is reportedly considering opening safe injection sites despite saying during the Trump administration that they were “utterly incompatible” with how local governments should combat the opioid epidemic.
Following an inquiry from the Associated Press, the DOJ revealed it is “evaluating” facilities that would provide safe havens for people who use heroin or other narcotics.
“Although we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department is evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety,” the DOJ told the outlet.
During the Trump administration, the Justice Department took a hard stance against such facilities, blasting then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2019 for his plan to open several sites.
“The Department of Justice’s agents and prosecutors will not stand idly by while misguided, dangerous, and destructive federal criminal violations take place,” spokeswoman Jessica Hart wrote in a letter to then-state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis at the time. “The Department will, as always, enforce the law where prosecution will serve a substantial federal interest.”
In early 2021, the department reaffirmed its stance after winning a lawsuit blocking a plan to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia. A federal appeals court ruled that while the city had “admirable” motives, it is a “crime to open a property to others to use drugs.”
Advocates of the facilities took the decision to the Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case.
Despite the legal loss, New York City moved forward with its plan late last year to authorize safe injection sites, also known as “overdose prevention centers.”
“Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible,” de Blasio said in a statement in November.
The centers opened at New York Harm Reduction Educators on East 126th Street in Harlem and Washington Heights’ CORNER Project on West 180th Street, providing clean needles and social services for users who bring their own drugs.
In order to open the sites, de Blasio worked around New York state law by using needle exchange licenses already possessed by the facilities.
Many lawmakers and activists on both sides of the aisle objected to the plan, including Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network joined in a Dec. 11 protest against the facilities.
“We are compassionate and want to help all the vulnerable population in New York City, however, we cannot be complacent regarding the decades-long process of systemic racism that has oversaturated our community,” the event organizers said in an email.
“The siting of the nation’s first formal opioid injection site without any community consultation is another in-your-face demonstration of how New York City continues to ignore the opinions of Harlem and locate programs on our streets for the benefit of wealthier and often whiter neighborhoods,” the organizers complained.
The city has defended the sites, touting that more than 110 overdoses were averted or reversed in their first six weeks of operation.