Sep 14, 2023 - News

Philly City Council gets moving on ban of overdose prevention sites

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

City Council is teeing up legislation to essentially ban overdose prevention sites throughout most of Philadelphia.

Why it matters: The proposal would hinder the opening of any potential facility and shift more control over that process to lawmakers.

What's happening: The Council is expected to take up a final vote today, when members return for their first session of the fall.

  • Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, the bill's main sponsor, tells Axios she has the votes to pass it.

Between the lines: The nonprofit Safehouse has spent years in court fighting to open an overdose prevention site in Philly.

How it works: The proposal would establish a new zoning regulation banning narcotic injection sites, where people can use drugs under supervision and access services.

  • The ban would stretch over nine of 10 Council districts, with the exception of District 3 in West Philadelphia.

Zoom in: A potential site operator could seek a variance from the zoning board to open a facility.

  • Yes, but: Zoning variances hinge on community support and the backing of the district legislator. And most Councilmembers to date have been hostile to opening a safe injection site in their part of town.

State of play: If the bill passes, it heads to Mayor Jim Kenney, who has long supported the sites as a way to help reduce opioid overdose deaths.

  • Legislators could still override any veto from him.

By the numbers: In 2021, fatal overdose deaths in Philly climbed to a record high of 1,276, per the latest city data.

What they're saying: The proposal sends a message to the next mayor that more must be done to gain community support over overdose prevention sites, says Lozada. She represents District 7 which includes Kensington, the hub of the city's opioid crisis.

The other side: Banning the sites would ensure public drug use and that drug-related garbage remains on city streets, Ronda Goldfein, the vice president of Safehouse, tells Axios.

  • "This is not the time for City Council to be taking evidence-based tools off the table," she said.

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