The Best Thing That Happened This Week: Ed Rendell’s New Gig

Our ex-mayor is lending some heft to the safe-injection-site movement.

Ed Rendell. (AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower)

You know that saying about those who don’t remember the past being doomed to repeat it? Americans have been doomed when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse for a long, long time. Our collective Puritanical mind-set has encouraged us to view substance abusers as morally deficient weaklings who ought to just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and be virtuous the way we are (we say as we sip our wine).

And it hasn’t worked. We haven’t gotten any more sober as a result of centuries of societal opprobrium. Last year, there were more than 1,200 fatal drug overdoses in the city—an increase of 34 percent over 2016. (We have the highest overdose rate of any major U.S. city—yay us!) A full 88 percent of those overdoses involved opioids. Nationwide, some 170 men and women die of drug overdoses every single day. But oh, hey, sure, let’s just keep telling users to straighten up and fly right.

Or, you know, we could try something different. That’s what former governor and Philly mayor Ed Rendell has decided to do. He’s joined the board of Safehouse, a new nonprofit dedicated to opening a safe injection site — it would be the first in the nation — where Philadelphians could shoot up drugs they purchase elsewhere, but under medical supervision. (Three-quarters of Philly’s overdose deaths in 2017 occurred, not on the street, but in private homes.) Rendell says he was inspired to join Safehouse by the overdose death in 2016 of a longtime family friend.

Where to put such a site will, no doubt, inspire much NIMBY handwringing. But we’re smart enough as a city to work through the challenges. A report earlier this year based on evidence from cities with such sites in Europe and Canada estimated that opening one in Philly could save 25 to 75 lives per year, not to mention literally millions of dollars in health-care costs, and reduce the number of addicts panhandling on city streets. “I’m absolutely at peace that I’m doing the right thing,” Rendell says.

As an alternative, we could just keep banging our heads against the wall. C’mon, doesn’t it still feel good?