Most of us cannot deny that the United States is in the midst of a significant drug overdose crisis. Drug overdoses can easily lead to fatalities, leaving children without parents, partners without partners and parents without children.
Recognizing the trauma caused by overdose fatalities, many cities, including New York City, have authorized “safe consumption” sites. But do such efforts violate federal law?
What is a safe consumption site?
A safe consumption site is a place where drug users are allowed to inject or otherwise use drugs while being monitored by someone who can help them in the case of an overdose. The drugs are not provided by the safe consumption site; the user will have obtained them on their own prior to use.
Safe consumption sites can also provide users with information on addiction treatment, mental health services and social services. Some even provide basic life necessities like food, a place to shower and a place to wash their clothes.
Are safe consumption sites legal?
It would seem to many that safe consumption sites provide a beneficial service to drug users and the public as a whole. They prevent overdose and help keep drug users off the streets.
But federal statutes prohibit anyone from operating a place that is intended to serve as a location for the use of illegal drugs.
In the past, federal case law has reaffirmed that safe consumption sites fall under the category of illegal sites for drug use. Courts have maintained that the primary purpose of safe consumption sites is to allow the use of illegal drugs, which violates federal law.
However, following a 2021 Justice Department victory in a civil court case regarding the legality of safe consumption sites, the current administration is now considering permitting the operation of safe consumption sites.
The Justice Department is now evaluating safe consumption sites and is considering placing appropriate regulatory guardrails on the operation of such sites. So, in the future, it may be possible for safe consumption sites to operate freely in New York without having committed a criminal drug offense.