Safe sites


Here’s an issue this paper has not dived into deeply enough that has caused neighborhoods in this city and others to reexamine a successful program from the AIDS epidemic that might have seen its time pass. Safe injection sites.

Once the Reagan administration shamelessly stopped STANDING IN THE WAY OF AIDS/HIV RESEARCH WE SOON LEARNED THAT transmission was largely through unprotected sex and drugs, high among them was injectable drugs, and with dirty needles.

Something revolutionary had to be done and from that was created the Safeguards, a group of gay men and allies who decided to go to places in Philadelphia where drugs were readily available and hand out clean needles.

This action lead to some major controversies. First, the neighborhoods were up in arms. Then the state said they’d come in and arrest those handing out the needles. Mayor Ed Rendell stepped up and said if state troopers were coming to arrest, let him know when, and he’s arrested as well. The neighbors soon realized that with or without free needles the safe places in their neighborhoods would remain drug markets, but with clean needles maybe their children and relatives and friends wouldn’t be exposed to dirty needles or those who use them and might become intimate with. As the neighbors settled down, the state backed down.

Well, it’s happening again and this time like the last, neighbors are worried about their neighborhoods. Much has changed in treatment of HIV, but it is still out there and a larger percentage of those contracting it are drug addicts who inject. But there still is a new major reason to step up the program rather then attempt to stop it. The nation is awash in a new epidemic, that of opioids, and most start with pills and then graduate to needles.

Of course any program can be improved upon. What about moving these safe injection sites and promoting the new locations? That suggestion that I toss out is a starting point on this discussion, but this old program, like the song, is new again. n

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at or Twitter at