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Open multiple sites in SF to inject drugs under medical supervision, task force says

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(Clockwise, from left) Saline solution, alcohol wipes, band-aids, twist ties, a burner apparattus and tourniquet, supplies used for safe injection, are displayed on a table at the AIDS Foundation’s Harm Reduction Center on Sixth Street in San Francisco, Calif. Friday, October 20, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco should operate multiple safe injection sites in conjunction with social services in neighborhoods where drug use is most prevalent, a city task force recommends.

The Safe Injection Task Force’s 17 recommendations, which will be released on Friday, moves San Francisco closer to becoming the first U.S. city to open safe injection sites, although there are about 100 operating in 65 cities around the world.

SEE RELATED: SF considers multiple supervised injection sites open 24-hours or during business hours

“The task force’s overarching recommendation is to support the operation of safe injection services in San Francisco,” the report says. “The rise in public injection drug use and its harmful public health and safety outcomes has long reached critical mass in The City, and this urgency is commonly felt by members of the task force and San Francisco residents alike.”

The report says that “research consistently demonstrates that safe injection services are an evidenced-based harm reduction strategy that can address this public health issue.”

Safe injection sites allow people to inject drugs onsite under medical supervision. Studies show they prevent overdoses, reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, increase proper disposal of syringes and connect people to services to help them ultimately recover from their drug use.

The task force recommendations, which the Department of Public Health is expected to officially release Friday, will undergo a hearing Wednesday before the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.

“San Francisco would be best served by operating multiple safe injection service sites in neighborhoods where public injection drug use, overdoses and improperly discarded syringes most often occur,” the task force recommends.

About 22,500 people inject drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, according to a 2015 estimate, and they live mostly in the the Tenderloin, South of Market, Mission
and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods.

The effort seemingly suffered a setback when Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed a handful of counties including to San Francisco to legally operate safe injection sites under state law, failed to pass out of the state Senate. The the bill’s authors plan to try again next year.

SEE RELATED: Bill to allow safe injection sites for drug users fails in California Senate

But supporters of safe injection sites argue The City should still proceed.

The task force acknowledges the legal barriers. The possession of heroin and other illegal drugs is prohibited by state and federal law, which also prohibits building owners and operators from allowing the storage and distribution of the drugs.

“In order to proceed with operating safe injection services, San Francisco must be deliberate in formulating a way forward for local agencies, community organizations and building owners that includes local protections and procedures to respond to potential legal repercussions,” the task force recommends.

Other recommendations include to “design safe injection services as a safe, clean and welcoming space for people who inject drugs” and “support an integrated model that includes on-site services and linkages to other services.”

Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who called for the creation of the task force and Wednesday’s hearing, said in 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,” Breed continued. “We need a one-stop-shop of wraparound services that provide hope for a healthier life and opportunities for rehabilitation. Safe injection services could potentially provide that opportunity.”

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