Sending The Wrong Message

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The Clergy for New Drug Policy Weekly News Round-up

“Let justice roll down like waters.”

Amos 5:24

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

I became a father for the first time last year. Time and again I was told that there was nothing that could fully prepare me for that experience and friends, that is the truth. 

When thinking about issues of drug policy the question often arises, what kind of message would this send to kids? As a new parent, I fully agree with the importance of that question. The things that we allow or don’t allow, praise, or condemn do send important messages to children about our values. 

Next week the Department of Justice is set to make an important decision on whether or not overdose prevention centers (OPCs) can legally operate in the United States. OPCs (sometimes called supervised consumption sites) allow people who use drugs to do so in an environment where they have access to clean equipment and under the attention of staff who can respond to medical issues that may arise. 

New York City recently opened the first two publicly operating sites in the United States following the more than 120 sites operating across the globe. As you’ll read below, these sites have been extensively studied and there is no evidence that they increase crime or drug use and conclusive evidence that they provide much-needed emergency medical care and reduce the spread of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDs. 

In June, Clergy for a New Drug Policy partnered with Faith in Harm Reduction to promote a sign-on letter encouraging Attorney General Merrick Garland to create a pathway for OPCs to operate legally in the United States. With the updated timeline from the DOJ, you have another chance to sign on if you haven’t already.

Am I concerned that opening OPCs will send the wrong message to young people? Absolutely not. I’m concerned about the message we are sending young people by failing to open them. 

Here are a few of the messages I hope my daughter, and young people across the country, do hear: 

God loves people who use drugs. So do we. 

There is no chemical so powerful that it can separate you from the love of God.
Every person is created in the image of God and is worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their drug use status. 

Help people that others have given up on. 

No one is beyond hope. 

We support any step towards positive change. 

OPCs won’t solve the overdose crisis but they can and do save lives. 

Let’s hope it sends the message that our culture of punishment needs to be transformed into one of healing and restoration. 

Keep the faith,

Timothy McMahan King
Senior Fellow, Clergy for a New Drug Policy

Appellate Court Agrees with Government that Supervised Injection Sites are Illegal under Federal Law; Reverses District Court Ruling

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What’s the legal status of overdose prevention centers in the United States? 

Before New York City opened the first overdose prevention center in the U.S., Safehouse, a Philadelphia nonprofit, attempted to open an overdose prevention center in Philadelphia. However, the Trump Administration blocked the plan, and eventually, the Third Circuit ruled that it is a federal crime to open an overdose prevention center  for “illegal drug use.” The Supreme Court declined to take the case. 

The case has continued in a lower federal court. In March the Justice Department signaled it may be ready to allow overdose prevention centers stating, “although we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department is evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety.”

The Justice Department has until December 5th to file a formal response in the lawsuit. 

What’s The Evidence That Supervised Drug Injection Sites Save Lives?

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While still controversial in the United States at least 100 overdose prevention centers operate around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia. 

2014 review of 75 studies concluded that overdose prevention centers promote safer injection conditions, reduce overdoses and increase access to health services. Overdose prevention centers were associated with less outdoor drug use, and they did not appear to have any negative impacts on crime or drug use.

A look inside the 1st official safe injection sites in U.S.

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On November 30, 2021, New York City opened the first overdose prevention center in the United States.

During the first three months, the sites halted more than 150 overdoses during about 9,500 visits — many of them repeat visits from some 800 people in all. While several state and city officials embraced the sites, the sites also fueled protests that included government officials. 

California governor vetoes supervised drug injection sites

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Opposition to OPCs is political rather than ideological or evidence-based. The Manhattan Institute, a far-right think tank, hosted a panel discussion on the topic and came to a mostly positive, albeit cautious, conclusion. 

In August of this year, California’s Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, vetoed Senate Bill 57 which would have authorized overdose prevention center pilot programs through Jan. 1, 2028.