Federal Judge Rules Against Philadelphia Supervised Drug Consumption Effort

Naomi Carr
Morgan Blair
Written by Naomi Carr on 17 April 2024
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 19 April 2024

On the third of April, 2024, US District Court Judge Gerald McHugh denied a lawsuit from the non-profit organization Safehouse, preventing the opening of a supervised drug consumption facility. Safehouse claimed that, as they are a religious entity, they should be allowed to utilize the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to bypass federal drug laws.

Federal Judge Rules Against Philadelphia Supervised Drug Consumption Effort

Who is Safehouse?

Safehouse is a non-profit organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They aim to save lives by preventing drug overdoses with the implementation of supportive services. They state that their principles and practices are based on Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Reports show that overdoses (particularly those involving opioids) in Philadelphia have been increasing steadily over the last few years. Safehouse aims to tackle this problem.

What is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed in 1993 and states that any US agency or governmental organization cannot prevent a person from exercising their religion. In 2006, this act was applied to the use of peyote (which contains the psychedelic compound mescaline) with a Native American religious group, as this practice was deemed a ‘sincere religious practice’.

What is a supervised consumption facility?

Supervised consumption facilities are places in which people can administer drugs using safe and clean equipment and under the monitoring of staff during and following administration. This is intended to help prevent and treat any dangerous effects, including overdose.

Several supervised consumption facilities are in operation around the world, including in Europe, Australia, and Canada, although there are none in the US. Evidence shows that they can be beneficial in preventing harm to people who use substances, such as preventing the spread of infectious diseases and reducing the number of opioid overdose deaths.

History of Safehouse's efforts

In 2018, Safehouse was granted permission to open a supervised consumption site in Philadelphia. However, the Trump administration promptly filed a lawsuit to prevent this facility from opening. In 2021, the Biden administration took over this case. Safehouse was then given an opportunity to renegotiate and reach an agreement with the federal government.

Safehouse stated that they are a religious entity and their work is based on Judeo-Christian beliefs. They argued that they should be permitted to open their supervised consumption site due to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as preventing them from doing so denies their right to religious expression.

However, Judge McHugh has now determined that Safehouse is not a religious entity and therefore is still under federal laws, in particular the Controlled Substances Act, which states that it is illegal to utilize a place for the use or storage of substances.

As such, the safe consumption site proposed by Safehouse is not permitted to open.

Resources:

  1. McHugh, G. (2024). United States of America, v. Safehouse. Courthouse News. Retrieved from
  2. Safehouse. (n.d). Frequently Asked Questions. Safehouse Philly. Retrieved from
  3. Health Commissioner, Bettigole, C. (2023). Unintentional Drug Overdose Fatalities in Philadelphia, 2022. Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Retrieved from
  4. 103rd Congress (1993-1994). H.R. 1308 – Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Congress. Retrieved from
  5. Pew Research Center. (2006). Supreme Court Rules that Religious Group Can Use Illegal Drug in Their Worship Services. Pew Research. Retrieved from
  6. Yoon, G.H., Levengood, T.W., Davoust, M.J., Ogden, S.N., Kral, A.H., Cahill, S.R., & Bazzi, A.R. (2022). Implementation and Sustainability of Safe Consumption Sites: A Qualitative Systematic Review and Thematic Synthesis. Harm Reduction Journal, 19, 73. Retrieved from
  7. Facher, L. (2024). Federal Judge Rules Against Philadelphia Supervised Drug Consumption Effort. Stat News. Retrieved from
  8. Healy, J. (2024). ‘Great Feeling of Lost Opportunity’ – Philadelphia Group Loses Bid for Supervised Injection Site. Courthouse News. Retrieved from

Activity History - Last updated: 19 April 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 17 April 2024 and last checked on 19 April 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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