Philly Mayor Jim Kenney, city officials to tour Canada's safe injection sites

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials are headed to Canada Tuesday to tour safe injection sites in Vancouver and Toronto, Action News has learned.

"The Mayor looks forward to meeting with public health and safety officials in these cities to learn more about OPS operations and their impact on public safety and neighboring communities, as well as any other lessons that can help Philadelphia in its effort to combat the opioid epidemic," said a spokeswoman for the mayor's office.

The Canada visit comes as the safe injection site debates rage on in Philadelphia.

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials are headed to Canada as reported by Christie Ileto during Action News at 11 on July 29, 2019.

Rosalind Pichardo, who lives in Kensington, knows first hand the impact of heroin.

"I'm a resident. I'm not an EMT, crisis worker, I don't work for hospitals. I'm a resident who reverses 155 overdoses," she said.

Earlier this year in April, community members packed Bethel Temple Community Bible Church to voice opinions over the possibility of a safe injection site in Kensington.

Safehouse, a non-profit chaired by former Governor Ed Rendell, wants to spend almost $2 million a year to operate a safe injection site in Kensington-- an area ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

Kenney and other city officials announced last year they supported Safehouse's plan to open locations where people can inject drugs under the supervision of a doctor or nurse who can administer an overdose antidote if necessary. Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate of any large U.S. city.

"With over an estimated 1,100 overdose deaths last year, it is clear that the opioid crisis still grips Philadelphia. People die every day, and we believe that Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) can save lives and should be located in the heart of the crisis," the mayor has previously stated.

Residents pointed out there are homes and schools in walking distance of a proposed site.

Others argue that Kensington is the epicenter of the epidemic, so it makes sense to bring the safe injection site to the area where the problem is most acute.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain sued Safehouse in February, arguing it's seeking to break the law and normalize the use of deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl. The suit argues the federal Controlled Substances Act makes it illegal to operate any site "for the purpose of unlawfully using a controlled substance."

Kenney has previously stated the need to explore Overdose Prevention Sites opportunities and Safehouse's plan.

In 2018, Action News traveled to Canada where safe injection sites are already up and running. Our visit came with mixed reaction.

"We offer all the supplies that they'd need: tourniquet, sterile water, cookers, and then they can select the needle that most meets their needs," said Shaun Hopkins, who runs a site in the heart of Toronto's tourism district. "We intervened, so far, from August 2017, in about 170 overdoses either with Naloxone or oxygen. So you could say we've saved those lives," she said.

When asked about public support for the facility, and whether it has increased or decreased, Hopkins said, "I think public support for this facility is difficult."

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Farrah discusses battle with drugs with Action News reporter Chad Pradelli in June, 2018.

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