The country’s top health official indicated Wednesday that the Biden administration would not prevent the creation of safe injection sites where people can use illegal drugs in a medically supervised environment as a way to curb the overdose epidemic — but that it is ultimately up to the Department of Justice to follow through, with a short summary of A major case is scheduled to be heard in court next week.
As the administration rolls out a new plan to address the health crisis — which will include more modest harm-limiting reforms such as providing fentanyl testing and access to the syringe — Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said safe consumption facilities are not on the table.
The comments come at a pivotal time, as the federal government actively faces in court a legal challenge over overdose prevention centers, with a pivotal briefing soon. The US Supreme Court recently refused to hear A case about the legality of these harm reduction centersBut advocates hoping to set up such a facility in Philadelphia are still pursuing the case at the lower federal court level, where the administration will have to clarify its position next week.
The Department of Justice, not HHS, will respond on behalf of the government in this case. But Becerra’s new comments suggest that the administration understands — and sympathizes with — the arguments in favor of providing people with harm reduction services.
“We are literally trying to give users a lifeline,” Becerra told NPR, adding that the federal agency would not interfere with state efforts to set up safe injection facilities. “We’re not going to say ‘but you can’t do this other kind of supervised consumption program that you think works or the evidence shows that it’s working,'” he said.
“We are willing to go to places where our opinions and inclinations have not allowed us to go [before],” he is She said. “If you can’t stop someone from becoming a user, you should at least stop them from hurting themselves to the point of death.”
When The Washington Post asked Becerra separately whether the administration would clear the way for supervised consumption facilities, he said that while the final legal decision is off its “track,” officials are “looking for every way to do so.”
“It is likely that we will support the efforts of countries that use evidence-based practices and treatments,” he said Tell Newspaper.
It’s not necessarily an endorsement of a progressive harm reduction strategy, which advocates argue can help mitigate overdose deaths while providing people with substance use disorders access to treatment resources.
A HHS spokesperson later sought to retract Becerra’s comments somewhat.
“HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites,” they said in a statement to NPR. “The issue is one of ongoing litigation. The secretary was simply stressing that HHS supports various forms of harm reduction for people who use drugs.”
However, Becerra’s comments are a notable remark from a senior administration official that may indicate where the federal government is finally coming down to the still-controversial policy.
Furthermore, HHS as part of its launch of the new comprehensive program for overdose prevention, put the origins of the drug war in no uncertain terms.
said in timetable on federal drug policy that “the federal government’s declaration of a war on drugs established racially biased efforts to criminalize and control drug use” in the 1970s. The “strategy disproportionately targeted blacks living in urban areas”.
While Becerra’s recent comments about harm reduction and his department’s acknowledgment of the racist origins of the drug war encourage advocates, groups like the Drug Policy Alliance continue to push for broader reforms such as decriminalization — changes in policy that activists say can help remove the stigma of addiction and push people away. towards treatment resources.
President Joe Biden, for his part, has not personally weighed in on the safe injection facilities. He said he doesn’t feel the need to lock up people for low-level drug crime, but that allowing these centers would be a major development in the harm reduction movement.
Besira for his part, Demonstrate a track record of supporting marijuana law reform While he was previously the California attorney general and a member of Congress.
And for what it’s worth, a coalition of 80 current and former attorneys general and law enforcement officials — including the one Biden picked as the US attorney in Massachusetts — has delivered an earlier brief urging the Supreme Court to: Eating a safe injection box in Philadelphia, created by the non-profit organization Safehouse.
As California’s attorney general, Becerra joined his counterparts from other states in signing an earlier friendly memorandum when the Safehouse case was before a federal appeals court.
“The opioid epidemic has devastated communities across our nation. Safe injection sites aim to increase public health and safety by providing comprehensive services to victims of the opioid epidemic, while reducing the public nuisance of drug use in public spaces.” She said in time. “Safe injection sites like Safehouse are an innovative tool to combat the opioid epidemic and drug dependence while reducing death from overdose and disease transmission. California has always been a leader, and we are committed to doing what it takes to keep our communities healthy and safe.”
Again, however, HHS will not speak on behalf of the administration in the Safehouse case in federal court. That will be left to the Ministry of Justice, whose position on the issue is less clear at this point. The Chamber declined to take the option to file a summary at the Supreme Court level, although the option to remain silent is not available now that the case has returned to a lower court.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before it was blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. He. She She petitioned the country’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court refused to take any action – the Biden administration squandered its voluntary opportunity to influence this matter The stage, which may have influenced the judges’ decision – activists say the fight will continue at the level of the lower federal court, with activists intending to make multiple arguments related to religious freedom and protection of interstate commerce.
The Biden administration will have to file a response in that court by November 5.
Depending on the outcome of the case, advocates and lawmakers across the country may be encouraged to pursue a harm reduction policy.
Rhode Island governor signed a bill in July to Create a beta program for a safe consumption site Where people can test and use currently illegal drugs. It became the first in the country to legalize harm reduction centers. It is not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts legislators Similar legislation was introduced last year, but was not eventually enacted.
A similar damage reduction bill in California, sponsored by Senator Scott Weiner (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.