As drug overdoses have surged over the past decade, many cities — including Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle — have opened locations at which individuals can use illegal drugs in a supervised environment such that overdose deaths are minimized. Nearly 92,000 Americans died from drug-involved overdoses in 2020, according to data from the National Institutes of Health, marking an increase from nearly 71,000 deaths in 2019.
Yet evidence does not necessarily support the argument that injection sites meaningfully discourage drug use. In an analysis of one study, Hudson Institute senior fellow David Murray noted that “participation in facility services did not reduce either the number of injections, nor the number of overdose events, over time,” implying that the sites “may actually lessen the incentive for participants to enter treatment and recovery.”
Fetterman, who is running against Republican rival and celebrity cardiologist Dr. Mehmet Oz in one of the nation’s most heated Senate races, nevertheless has a long history of supporting injection sites.
“I think it’s important that we as a society get in front of it,” Fetterman said of the drug crisis in a 2018 podcast interview with Aaron Watson. “I think it’s important that we as a society have all the options on the table — including needle exchange, which is only technically legal in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — and even safe injection sites that are being considered.”
In response to a 2020 tweet from the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner — who is backed by leftist billionaire George Soros — arguing that “harm reduction strategies like overdose prevention sites” have “no negative impact on drug use or crime” while providing a “positive impact on quality of life for residents,” Fetterman commented that “harm reduction, reduces harm.”
Many Democratic lawmakers have similarly pushed for the decriminalization of hard drugs. Voters in the state of Oregon, for example, approved a ballot initiative in 2020 that eliminated criminal penalties for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine possession.
“I’m pro legalizing marijuana, but I go even further than some of my colleagues because I’m for decriminalizing across the board,” Fetterman affirmed in a 2015 interview with The Nation. “I see it as a public-health issue, not a criminal issue. I’ve seen first hand for the last 14 years the effects it has on families.”
Fetterman’s wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman — a nonprofit executive who has been active in her husband’s campaign — likewise said in 2020 that she would “enthusiastically” welcome injection sites in her “backyard.”
“Collective fear will only ensure we continue down this path. Shouldn’t the preservation of human life override all else? If we as a society are truly committed to saving lives, shouldn’t we try all our options?” she argued. “This isn’t an outrageous idea. No overdose deaths have been reported at any of the more than 120 supervised consumption sites worldwide.”
Adopting a similar policy toward drug enforcement, President Joe Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services planned to implement a $30 million grant program earlier this year.