The city of San Francisco, which has one of the largest populations of injectable drug users in the country, may soon become the first city in the U.S. to open supervised injection sites. Along with providing medical supervision, the sites would provide a way to connect drug addicts with services and get them into treatment.
In September, a task force created by the city board of supervisors issued its final report, recommending that the city set up multiple safe injection sites as a public health strategy. The Department of Public Health estimates the city is home to some 22,500 people who inject drugs and has more than 100 injected drug overdose deaths annually.
The report says each dollar spent on one 13-booth SIF in San Francisco would produce $2.33 in savings, in the form of reduced crime, fewer overdoses and first-responder calls, prevented HIV and Hep C infections, averted overdoses, fewer hospital stays, and fewer soft-tissue infections.
The infections have become so common among the city’s injectable drug users that the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center developed a clinic to treat them.
Citing research, the report said just one SIF could produce $3.5 million in total net savings.
Breed, who organized the task force, wrote in her introduction to the report that: “It is simply not enough to provide voluntary detox services or clean syringe exchanges; we need to provide a robust continuum of care and a welcoming environment for those struggling with drug abuse. We need a one-stop shop of wraparound services that provide hope for a healthier life and opportunities for rehabilitation.”
Breed pointed out that more than 100 safe injections sites operate in more than 65 cities worldwide.
Earlier this year, a bill to allow a handful of counties including San Francisco to legally operate safe injection sites under state law failed to pass in the state Senate. The bill’s authors plan to reintroduce the bill in 2018
A spokesperson for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said the mayor is willing to help get the sites established. Ellen Canale said the mayor “looks forward to working with the Board of Supervisors and the community on this issue.” The report and its recommendations were reviewed at a public hearing by the Neighborhood Services Committee and the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee.
In its report, the task force acknowledged that creating SIFs will be complicated by legal issues that will need to be resolved.
“The possession of controlled substances — unless the possession is with the prescription of a licensed health professional — is prohibited by both state and federal law. State and federal law also prohibits building owners and operators from allowing the manufacture, storage, or distribution of a controlled substance, and criminal and civil penalties may be imposed on all parties engaged in the property.”
Breed urged the city to act to address a major public health problem. “You cannot walk from City Hall to Civic Center BART without seeing people shooting up in broad daylight. Orange plastic syringe caps and used needles litter our sidewalks, not only outside of City Hall, but in our neighborhoods. It is unsafe and it is unhealthy. “