San Francisco has Strong Support for Safe Injection Centers
San Francisco is getting closer to a decision on whether to create a supervised, city-sanctioned place for people to use injection drugs safely. Last month, the San Francisco Safe Injection Services Task Force, created to explore the options and obstacles surrounding a safe injection site, met for the final time before the Department of Public Health, which oversaw the group, presented recommendations to the Board of Supervisors this month. According to public health statistics, an estimated 22,000 people in the city use injectable drugs, primarily heroin and methamphetamine, with most of the drug use occurring in the Tenderloin and South of Market. While questions remain on where a site might be located and how it would be run, remarks from many of the task force members, including health department Director Barbara Garcia, suggested there was strong support for moving ahead. Board of Supervisors President London Breed responded to critics of the idea to create a safe injection site and stated,
I hear them. I understand where they’re coming from, and I get it. I personally believe we should try it. It pains me to want to do this, to spend money on this, but I feel like it could do more good than bad. And how do we know unless we give it a chance?
Proponents of safe injection sites say they are essential to helping the city prevent overdose deaths and, because the site would provide drug users with clean needles, slow the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Health officials also hope that a safe injection site can act as a way out of addiction by giving drug users access to treatment programs and other services. There are no safe injection sites in the United States, and a widespread concern among opponents is that a site would serve as a magnet for drug dealers and crime. Last month, the task force reviewed the results of two surveys and two focus groups convened by the health department and HealthRight360, a medical care and substance abuse treatment provider. The surveys and focus groups, which included 679 San Francisco residents, including some recovering addicts with less than a year of sobriety, found that at least half of the respondents supported a safe injection site coupled with services such as addiction treatment. It definitely is a controversial proposal, but we will have to wait and see if the city follows through with its plans.