Raúl Torrez | Attorney General

AG Balderas Files Court Brief to Protect New Mexicans from Opioid Overdoses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  July 11, 2019

Contact: Matt Baca (505) 270-7148

Albuquerque, NM—Attorney General Balderas today joined a coalition of eight states in filing a
brief 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,” said Attorney General
Balderas. “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.

Raul Torrez

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