Philadelphia City Council approved a bill last week to ban supervised drug consumption sites in most areas of the city, joining other Democrat-led cities that have struggled to address their rampant public drug use. The bill passed in a 13-1 vote during a contentious meeting where supporters and opponents of the ban clashed.
The legislation, drafted by Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, would update zoning codes to prohibit supervised drug consumption sites in nine out of ten districts in Philadelphia, including the Kensington neighborhood, which has become notorious for its open-air drug market and homeless individuals using drugs in public.
Lozada, who represents Kensington, defended the bill, stating that the voices of the residents should be prioritized. The neighborhood has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, with over 1,200 fatal overdoses in 2021 alone.
Opponents of the ban argue that supervised drug consumption sites are necessary to prevent overdose deaths and provide access to treatment for individuals struggling with addiction. However, Lozada pointed out that those opposing the ban do not live in the neighborhoods most affected by public drug use.
Philadelphia’s move comes just a week after another city grappling with public drug use, Portland, passed a ban on hard drug use on public property. However, the ban would require approval from Oregon’s state legislature, which would mean reversing the state’s recent decision to decriminalize hard drug use.
During New York City’s trial of supervised drug consumption sites, two regular users of the sites died from overdoses while the sites were closed at night. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler also expressed concern about the potential consequences of not addressing drug use on public property. He stated that he has witnessed increased homelessness, open-air drug markets, and theft in his city and believes that failing to address drug use only exacerbates these issues.
In recent years, Democratic-led cities have been at the forefront of exploring new approaches to combatting drug addiction, such as supervised drug consumption sites. However, some argue that these approaches may have unintended consequences and that more focus should be placed on addressing the root causes of addiction.
Philadelphia’s bill now goes to Mayor Jim Kenney, who has publicly supported supervised drug consumption sites. However, the city council passed the legislation with enough votes to override a veto should the mayor choose to veto it.
In 2022, more than 110,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S., according to federal data, highlighting the severity of the opioid crisis. In light of this, cities and states are faced with the challenge of finding effective solutions to address public drug use and the underlying issues of addiction.