Statement on Bernie Sanders Adding Safe Consumption Sites to His 2020 Platform

Statement August 19, 2019
Media Contact

Matt Sutton

New York, NY – Below is a statement from Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, Executive Director of Drug Policy Action, in response to 2020 presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders adding supervised consumption sites to his criminal justice platform.

“Senator Bernie Sanders has rightly recognized the life-saving value of supervised consumption sites as a way to curb the overdose crisis. Sanders and Andrew Yang are the first two 2020 presidential contenders to voice their support for this evidence-based practice that has significantly reduced overdose deaths in other countries where it is permitted, but which the US Department of Justice has sought to block in the United States. As overdose deaths continue to climb in many areas of the United States, it is imperative that public officials act now to end the callous and counterproductive approach of criminalizing sites that save lives.”

Today marks the first evidentiary hearing to decide the fate of United States v. Safehouse. Safehouse, a  community-based organization, is currently fending off an action in federal court against its attempt to establish a Supervised Consumption Site (SCS) in Philadelphia. In February, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William M. McSwain, filed the action seeking a declaratory judgment that Safehouse was in violation of the so-called “crack house” statute, making it illegal to “knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place…for the purpose of…using any controlled substance.” United States v. Safehouse represents the first time a court will interpret and apply the “crack house” statute –the largest legal barrier — to supervised consumption sites, potentially saving thousands of lives and helping to stem the deadly toll of the current overdose crisis.

Drug Policy Alliance, in July, orchestrated an extensive amicus brief effort on behalf of numerous organizations and individuals representing public health, criminal justice, law enforcement, faith, homelessness, and impacted families and communities in support of Safehouse. Over the past several years, DPA has led the effort to authorize and implement supervised consumption sites nationwide, including active involvement in introducing state legislation in California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

Background on Supervised Consumption SitesSupervised consumption sites (SCS), also known as safe injection facilities (SIF) or overdose prevention centers, are a proven approach in mitigating drug-related fatalities offering clean, controlled settings for people to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained professionals that can intervene in case of an overdose. In addition to providing access to sterile injecting equipment and supervised consumption, clients can also receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment.

There are approximately 120 supervised consumption sites currently operating in twelve countries around the world (Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland) – but none in the U.S. These sites can play a vital role as part of a larger public health approach to drug policy. They are intended to complement – not replace – existing prevention, harm reduction, and treatment interventions.