Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Tax Exemption for Clinical Traphouses Becomes A Closer Reality
We reported about Safehouse, Inc four years ago. And more than four years have passed since Safehouse obtained tax exempt status to provide a "range of overdose prevention services," including operation of "safe injection sites." Those sites, where addicted people can use drugs under supervision designed to prevent overdoses, are included in a range of medically recognized substance abuse "harm reduction" strategies. As we reported, Safehouse was stopped in its tracks when the Trump DOJ sued for a declaration that Safehouse's primary mission -- operation of a safe injection site -- would violate federal law against the maintenance of traphouses. A traphouse, by the way, is typically an abandoned or otherwise derelict former residence in an urban, and often underserved and neglected community where dealers set up shop; consumers come, buy, use, and are often "trapped" in that retail place for days turning tricks or robbing and stealing in adjacent neighborhoods to feed their addiction indefinitely. Cars, people on bikes, kids in their dad's car, and professionals from all professions "come thru" at all hours of day and night.
A traphouse in Columbus Ohio near Ohio State University
Here is how Wikipedia describes traphouses:
Abandoned buildings ravaged by arson or neglect are utilized by drug dealers since they are free, obscure, secluded and there is no paper trail in the form of rent receipts. The sale of illegal drugs often draws violent crime to afflicted neighborhoods, sometimes exacerbating the exodus of residents. In some cases, enraged citizens have burned crack houses to the ground, in hopes that by destroying the sites for drug operations they would also drive the illegal industries from their neighborhoods.
Now, after litigation all the way up to the Supreme Court, leaving intact the 3rd Circuit's declaration that safe injection sites violate federal law, the Biden Justice Department has signaled a reversal, according to the Associated Press. The declaration of illegality would permanently end tax exemption for safe injection sites under the illegality doctrine. But let's be clear, a traphouse is something entirely different from a safe injection site. It was the description above that prompted dogged opposition by the Trump administration. They thought drug dealers were seeking income and property tax exemption, I guess. Safe injection sites are not the horrible places described in several senators letter to Biden:
It has been reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is considering supporting the use of supervised injection sites. Supervised injection sites are public facilities for drug users to consume illicit drugs like fentanyl, methamphetamine, or heroin, under the supervision of medical staff. This reported position by your Justice Department is concerning for a number of reasons.
Beyond this, recent government reports show that supervised injection sites do not reduce overall overdose deaths or opioid-related emergency calls. Additionally, supervised injection sites have led to an increase in crime, discarded needles, and social disorder in the surrounding neighborhoods. Advocates in favor of supervised injection sites assert that they provide connections for those with substance use disorders to find housing and treatment options. However, these sites have a poor record of moving drug users into treatment and recovery, with some referral rates as low as 1%. Supporting those with substance use disorders is critically important; however, supervised injection sites’ goals of limiting the spread of diseases pale in comparison to the grave consequences of enabling and normalizing the consumption of illicit drugs.
Senator Grassley is a primary author and signatory, so we might expect he will continue resisting efforts to allow tax exemption for nonprofit organizations operating safe injection sites. But a Cato Institute policy analysis discusses the benefits of safe injection sites -- thereby distinguishing them from traphouses -- as well as the emerging medical and sociological consensus that safe injection sites are preferable to the interminable and unwinnable (is there any debate about that?) war on drugs. Fault or personal moral failings aside, some people can't "just say no." Cato issued an update upon hearing the news from DOJ:
When a private, self‐funded organization in Philadelphia sought, with the City Council’s endorsement, to open Safehouse in the city’s Kensington District, it was thwarted by the Trump administration’s Justice Department. After losing in the Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The harm reduction project is now in legal limbo.
Defying federal law, last summer the Governor of Rhode Island signed a bill permitting privately‐funded safe consumption sites beginning this spring. New York City opened two safe consumption sites last November and plans to open two more in coming weeks. San Francisco plans to officially open a site in the coming weeks. In the meantime, a de facto site is working under the radar in a Tenderloin District Linkage Center. The state legislature is entertaining a bill to legalize safe consumption sites statewide starting in 2023.
Since 2014 a safe consumption site has been secretly saving lives in the U.S. while being monitored by researchers at an independent non‐profit research institute based in North Carolina. The researchers provide data in the peer‐reviewed medical literature which they update regularly, while keeping the name and location of the site confidential. To avoid interdiction, the site is only able to operate part‐time.
In July 2020 the researchers provided five years (2014–2019) of data in the New England Journal of Medicine. There were 10,514 injections through 2019, with 33 overdoses over the 5‑year period—all of which were reversed. They reported that the types of drugs changed over that period, with combinations of opioids and stimulants comprising 5 percent of injections in 2014 and 60 percent of injections in 2019.
Last month these researchers reported in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that facility users were 27 percent less likely to visit emergency departments, had 54 percent fewer emergency department visits, and were 32 percent less likely to be hospitalized. Those who were hospitalized spent 50 percent fewer nights in the hospital. Therefore, in addition to saving the lives of people who inject drugs, safe consumption sites can reduce stress on the health care system.
Addiction is a public health issue.