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AG Nessel Supports Pennsylvania Non-Profit's Fight Against Opioid Overdose Deaths

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined seven other Attorneys General in a brief filed late last week in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania supporting Safehouse, a Pennsylvania non-profit that intends to open a “safe injection site” to help prevent opioid overdose deaths.  

The Trump administration is currently attempting to block Safehouse. The Attorneys General stepped in to ensure states maintain authority to enact public health solutions that can save residents’ lives.

“Each state must tackle the opioid crisis head-on.  Without the ability to use evidence-based initiatives, states will be hamstrung from protecting their residents from the scourge of the opioid epidemic,” said Nessel. “The numbers are staggering when we consider how quickly the death toll from opioid overdoses has grown in just 10 years. We must combat this persistent problem to our public health by supporting initiatives that are innovative and supported by evidence.  That is why I support every state’s efforts to use tools proven to protect those suffering from opioid addiction.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 130 Americans die each day from opioid overdose. Opioid deaths have been on the rise in the United States since 1999 with a death toll now totaling more than 400,000, based largely on the proliferation of opioid prescriptions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017 there were 2,033 overdose deaths involving opioids in Michigan.

Safehouse is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that plans to operate a medically supervised “safe injection site” where high-risk users can safely consume opioids and receive immediate medical care in the event of an overdose.  This medical oversight saves lives because death can occur within minutes of using heroin or fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid.  In addition, safe injection sites diminish the dangers associated with public drug usage and contaminated needles.

Safehouse also offers drug treatment options, primary medical care and wraparound social services that can help treat those suffering from opioid use disorder.  Although safe injection sites are new to the United States, more than 100 sites operate in 60 different cities in Canada, Australia, and many European nations.

The Attorneys General argue that states have the legal right to enact public health policies that allow medical interventions like safe injection sites because:

  • States have a well-established role in enacting public health and safety programs. States are on the front lines of the opioid crisis and have historically enjoyed broad powers regarding healthcare protections for their residents. For example, many states have implemented Good Samaritan laws, which encourage victims and bystanders to seek help for those experiencing a drug overdose by offering limited immunity from drug-related charges.  States have also acted to prevent the spread of disease through programs that provide users with clean needles. It is crucial that states and localities maintain the flexibility to act quickly to adopt public health solutions that address their residents’ needs.
  • Federal law does not prevent States from enacting innovative public health solutions. The federal government is seeking to prevent the use of safe injection sites, arguing that the use of illegal drugs on their premises violates the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”). However, the CSA, which includes criminal penalties, was intended to help law enforcement target crack houses and drug use at rave parties—not to prohibit life-saving public health interventions like safe injection sites.

Nessel joins the Attorneys General of Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Virginia in filing this brief.

A copy of the brief is available here.