Harrisburg, PA − April 25, 2023 − Today, in response to a vote in the Pennsylvania Senate’s Judiciary Committee to advance legislation that criminalizes overdose prevention centers, Pennsylvania State Senator Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia) released the following statement:
No matter where we live, what we’ve experienced, or what resources are readily available to us, every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and provided with the support we need to be healthy and well.
Our nation continues to experience a historic loss of life to overdose, and no community has been left untouched. Pennsylvania is fully in the grips of this crisis. One death from overdose is too many; our Commonwealth loses fifteen people every day. In 2021, my home city of Philadelphia reported the highest number of unintentional overdose deaths in our city’s history: 1,276 fatalities. The grief from these deaths perforates our communities.
It is against the backdrop of this national public health emergency that overdose prevention centers have arisen as a commonsense tool proven to save lives. Study after study shows that in addition to preventing deaths from overdose, these facilities reduce disease transmission, improve access to health care, and increase participation in lifesaving addiction treatment programs.
As more and more states look to overdose prevention centers as tools to save the lives of their residents and stabilize their communities, I was dismayed to see Senate Bill 165, which would criminalize these lifesaving spaces statewide, advance out of the Judiciary Committee. SB165 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.
Overdose prevention centers are consistent with principles of human rights and dignity; these spaces exist solely to reduce harm and promote health for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society.
As our Commonwealth’s legislative body, the protection and promotion of these rights is a fundamental aspect of our work. It is our duty and obligation to ensure the health and wellbeing of our residents. As the people and communities we serve face the increasingly devasting impacts of the opioid crisis, it is imperative that we embrace evidence-based solutions to save lives and support better health outcomes for all. Overdose prevention centers are crucial among these solutions.