HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A new bill would ban safe injection sites, which are also known as overdose prevention sites, across Pennsylvania. The bill passed the judiciary committee earlier in the week.
Democratic Senator Christine Tartaglione (D- Philadelphia) said she has seen the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on her community, and that is why she introduced the bill.
She said her district, which includes the Philadelphia neighborhoods of Kensington and Allegheny is the epicenter of the opioid crisis.
“My kids can’t walk to school without stepping over needles,” she said.
For years, a nonprofit has been trying to open a safe injection site in the city, but it has faced significant backlash from the community.
“You’re still going to have the problem in the community, and more people will flock into the community to use the safe injection site,” Tartaglione said. “They still come out and they’re still in the neighborhood.”
Tartaglione, who is a recovering alcoholic, said her priority is treatment and recovery, and that is what the state should focus on.
“If I didn’t get treatment when I did, I probably would have been dead,” she said.
Carla Sofronski, executive director of the PA Harm Reduction Network said safe injection sites should be part of that model.
“If we keep people alive, healthy, less trauma, their mental health is better, we know we will have better outcomes for folks to be able to enter recovery,” Sofronski said.
Sofronski acknowledge neighbors’ concerns, saying they are valid and those communities have a right to be concerned about what gets put in their neighborhood.
“We wouldn’t want people on the streets publicly injecting. Nobody wants to see that. Nobody would like their child to see that,” she said.
However, she said education is also important in those communities. Harm reduction measures like safe injection sites, she said, save lives. In November 2022, New York City opened two sites. In the first three months, they reversed 150 overdoses.
“Somebody hits rock bottom, which is the grave,” Sofronski said. “Anything to save lives during this crisis, we support.”
Tartaglione argues safe injection sites are a step backward in fighting the opioid epidemic, and they allow people with substance use disorder to continue using, a problem she says is plaguing her district.
“They’re getting PTSD, my kids, because they think it’s normal to see people shooting up in their neck or any part of their body. They have to walk over the needles to get to school,” she said.
Sofronski said that is a common misconception.
“There’s this false narrative that harm reduction enables drug use,” she said, adding that safe injection sites would also be a place people could get connected with resources and medical care.
Tartaglione said she does support some harm reduction measures, like clean needle programs. She has also helped set up mobile medical stations in her district and mobile methadone stations, which distribute a medicine used to treat opioid addiction.
Still, she said treatment and recovery are the only answer to this problem.
“Treatment saves lives and it saves lives every single day, and it makes a better quality of life,” she said.
Not all of Tartaglione’s colleagues are on board. Fellow Senator Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia) released a statement, saying in part:
“SB 165 is based on false pretenses—in terms of how overdose prevention centers operate in practice and in terms of their impact on surrounding communities. And the very real consequences if it were to pass through both chambers are that more people—our constituents, our neighbors, and our loved ones—will die.”Senator Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia)
Senator Tartaglione may not have support from all of her Democratic colleagues, but she tells abc27 many senators who she normally doesn’t agree with have thanked her for introducing the bill.