Despite rumor, no safe injection site planned for the Northeast

A meeting with the Mayor’s Task Force became heated as a rumor spread that a safe injection site would open in Fox Chase.

Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook. Last week, Northeast Philadelphia residents got fired up over the prospect of the city opening a comprehensive user engagement site (shortened as CUES, synonymous with a safe injection site) in Fox Chase.

The rumor spread as neighbors saw “activity” at the Fox Chase Swim Club.

The Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia hosted a community conversation on March 19, and residents showed up to make their opinion about the site heard.

Despite the rumor, there is no CUES planned for Northeast Philadelphia, or anywhere in the city, for that matter.

“There are absolutely no plans for a site to open at this point anywhere in the city, let alone Fox Chase or anywhere in my district,” Councilman Brian O’Neill told the Times.

The Task Force meeting, hosted at CORA Services, was intended to update residents on 18 initiatives the group has been working on since last May. Due to the rumor, the conversation heavily revolved around just the idea of a CUES as neighbors asked the presenters questions. Announcing plans for a site was not one of the 18 planned talking points.

“We are open to supporting a nonprofit or organization that steps forward to open [a CUES],” Alicia Taylor, communications director for the city of Philadelphia, told the Times.

So far, no organization or nonprofit has stepped forward to run a site since the city announced it would allow supervised drug injection sites in January. Taylor said the city would not open one itself, but would act in a supporting role.

“We are nowhere even close to opening a site,” she said. “It’s not imminent.”

O’Neill told the Times he would oppose a safe injection site if one was proposed for his district.

“People shooting up and overdosing and taking a certain drug that may help them stay alive is going on in certain parts of the city, but it’s not going on in my district,” he said.

O’Neill also assured his residents that the site would have to be approved by local neighbors and civic associations before opening.

“There is no site in my district where it would be legal [to open a CUES] without a zoning change,” he said.

Fox Chase Swim Club is zoned residential, which means it would have had to receive approval from the Fox Chase Homeowners Association before moving forward.

Supervised injection sites are medically sanctioned facilities that would allow addicts to safely inject drugs such as heroin and opioids. They are designed to slowly take the addict off the drug and reduce drug injection in public places.

Philadelphia and San Francisco are the only two American cities that said they would allow the sites. If an organization were to step forward, Philadelphia could become the first city in the country to open one. Worldwide, there are at least 100 similar sites open in nine countries, including Canada, which has hosted a site in Vancouver since 2003.

“We cannot just watch as our children, our parents, our brothers and our sisters die of drug overdose,” Thomas Farley, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, said when the city announced it would allow the sites. “We have to use every proven tool we can to save their lives until they recover from the grip of addiction.”

Approximately 1,200 people died of drug overdoses in the city in 2017. In 2016, there were just over 900 deaths.

O’Neill said that while the false rumor was a “gross miscalculation,” it sent a good message to the city.

“It showed the city how people would feel if they thought [a CUES] was coming to the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s good the city got to hear how residents in stable residential areas would feel.”

The conversation at CORA was one of four planned updates on the Task Force’s 18 initiatives planned all around the city. Other conversations will take place Wednesday March 28, at Resources for Human Development at 4700 Wissahickon Ave., and Thursday, March 29, at Greater Philadelphia Health Action Inc. at 1401 S. 31st St. All conversations are scheduled to run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Further meetings are also planned. ••