Attorney General Balderas
ALBUQUERQUE ― Attorney General Balderas joined a coalition of eight states in filing a brief Thursday supporting the rights of states to enact public health policies that can prevent opioid overdoses, save lives, and treat those suffering from opioid use disorder.
The amicus brief, filed today in United States v. Safehouse before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, opposes a Trump administration effort to stop Safehouse, a Pennsylvania nonprofit, from operating a life-saving “safe injection site” that can prevent opioid overdose deaths.
“New Mexican families have been devastated by the opioid crisis, and our State must use all tools available to heal our communities from this generational problem,” Balderas said. “President Trump’s attempt to stop treatment facilities from reducing harm in our communities is inexplicable, and I will continue to fight on behalf of New Mexico’s right to serve those most harmed by the opioid crisis.”
Safehouse is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that plans to operate a medically supervised “safe injection site” where high-risk users can consume opioids and receive immediate medical care in the event of an overdose. This medical supervision saves lives because death can occur within minutes of using heroin or fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid, often too quickly for emergency responders to arrive on the scene. It also mitigates the risks associated with public usage and contaminated needles. Safehouse also offers drug treatment options, primary medical care, and wraparound social services that can help treat those suffering from opioid use disorder. Although safe injection sites are new to the United States, over 100 sites operate in 60 different cities in Canada, Australia, and many European nations.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. Opioid deaths have been on the rise in the United States since 1999, based largely on the proliferation of opioid prescriptions. The death toll now totals over 400,000.
In their brief, the Attorneys General argue that states have the legal right to enact public health policies that allow medical interventions like safe injection sites because:
- States have a well-established role in enacting public health and safety programs: States are on the front lines of the opioid crisis and have historically enjoyed broad powers regarding healthcare protections for their residents. For example, New Mexico enacted the country’s first Good Samaritan law, which encourage victims and bystanders to seek help for those experiencing a drug overdose by offering limited immunity from drug-related charges. Today, 47 states have such laws on the books. States, including New Mexico, have also implemented syringe exchange programs which provide drug users with clean needles to prevent the spread of diseases and ensure that needles are not discarded in public places where they can cause harm. It is crucial that states and localities maintain the flexibility to act quickly to adopt public health solutions that address their residents’ needs.
- Federal law does not prevent States from enacting innovative public health solutions: The federal government is seeking to prevent the use of safe injection sites, arguing that the use of illegal drugs on their premises violates the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”). However, the CSA, which includes criminal penalties, was intended to help law enforcement target crack houses and drug use at rave parties—not to prohibit life-saving public health interventions like safe injection sites. Indeed, courts have upheld similar interventions like Good Samaritan Laws which prioritize public health objectives over criminal prosecution.
Joining Attorney General Balderas in the filing are the State Attorneys General from Colorado, the District of Colombia, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Virginia.