With opioids killing more than 115 people a day, several U.S. cities have been toying with the idea of opening a supervised injection clinic for the past few years. Such sites are places where people can safely use their own illegal drugs under the watchful eye of a medical professional who steers them toward social services like drug and mental health treatment. These clinics exist in a few other countries, including Canada, Australia and several in Europe. Dozens of studies have shown that they reduce overdoses without increasing drug use or crime in the community. The federal government recently weighed in on the matter for the first official time, issuing the city of Denver a stern rebuke over its plans to open a safe-injection site next year, reports Governing.
A joint letter from the U.S. Attorney and the Denver field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration warned the city last week against moving forward with its plan. The letter stressed that such a facility is illegal under federal law. “Just like so-called crack houses, these facilities will attract drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals, ultimately destroying the surrounding community,” the letter read. “More importantly, the government-sanctioned operation of these facilities serves only to normalize serious drug usage.” The letter threatens “criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use.” That isn’t stopping city officials. “We’re moving forward, maybe even with more vigor,” says Denver City Councilmember Albus Brooks. “Drug users are not the enemy.” Philadelphia, one of the other cities pursuing a safe injection clinic, is similarly defiant.