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City council essentially bans safe injection sites opening in Philadelphia

Philadelphia city council overrides Mayor Kenney's veto to pass bill banning safe injection sites
Philadelphia city council overrides Mayor Kenney's veto to pass bill banning safe injection sites 02:02

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- City council has essentially approved a ban on safe injection sites opening in Philadelphia.

"This is a ban on being able to put a center like this one in a community," Councilmember Quetcy Lozada said.   

City council said "no" to safe injection sites in Philadelphia on Thursday. In a 14-1 vote, the council overrode Mayor Jim Kenney's veto and passed a bill that would effectively ban the facilities in the city. 

The bill creates a zoning rule in nine of 10 city districts prohibiting the sites. But councilmembers claim there's still a path. 

RELATED: Pennsylvania Senate votes to ban safe injection sites

Any organization would have to get a zoning variance for a facility – but first, it would have to get community approval.  

"This bill puts the decision in the hands of people, the people who live there and would be directly impacted by it," Lozada said.   

But supporters of the sites, sometimes called "Overdose Prevention Centers," see this as a significant roadblock to a potentially life-saving tool. Many came before council Thursday to point to rising overdose numbers. 

"Overdose prevention sites offer an opportunity to bring those activities inside, offer safe disposal of needles and other litter, and offer pathways to medical care and drug treatment. And most importantly, save lives," Holiday Davis, of the Soul Collective, said.

Moses Santana calls himself a harm reductionist working in Kensington. He believes the centers can also help clean up communities. 

"It's gonna get people off the streets," Santana said. "It's going to get people out of the park, get needles off the street, get people into treatment."  

But councilmembers weren't sold. Some questioned how much treatment actually happens in the facilities and believe there are better ways they can combat the drug crisis. 

RELATED: Philadelphia City Council recommends blanket ban on supervised injection sites

"The way we do that is through long-term recovery," councilmember Jim Harrity said. "Not giving them a space where they can continue to harm themselves."

"Push for enforcement in that community," Lozada said. "We need to bring back the conversation of prevention and recovery."

So while this may not be a complete ban, it will make it much, much harder for any group or government agency to open a safe injection center in the city. 

Operators would need to apply for special permission from the city's zoning board of adjustment. In order to get that permission, they would first need to go through the neighborhood civic groups.

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