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Safe injection sites could soon be reality in San Francisco following Senate vote

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Safe injecting sites are intended to help reduce drug overdoses and needle litter. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The California State Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow San Francisco to open safe injection sites under a three year pilot program.

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman and co-authored by Senator Scott Wiener, is tailored to specifically allow The City to approve entities to operate overdose prevention programs for adults until January 1, 2022.

The State Assembly became the first legislative body across the country to pass such a bill last year. Following the senate’s vote, the bill will now move back to the Assembly for a final vote before it is sent to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

In light of an opioid crisis affecting the country, the bill aims to provide “a path for taking it on as the health crisis that it is,” said Eggman in a statement.

The sites must meet specific criteria, including providing a “hygienic space supervised by health care professionals…where people who use drugs can consume pre-obtained drugs, sterile consumption supplies, and access to referrals to substance use disorder treatment.”

There are currently no safe injection sites in the country, but the idea of piloting the program in San Francisco has met with local political support.

Mayor London Breed, who has advocated for the sites, said in a statement that they can “save lives by preventing overdoses and connecting people to life-saving services.”

Breed said that she is committed to opening a site in San Francisco at all costs, because “the status quo is not acceptable.”

Breed has announced plans to open a model safe injection site at the Tenderloin’s Glide Memorial Methodist Church at the end of the month in an effort to quell residents’ concerns about potential quality of life and safety issues.

“I understand the concern, but what I’m most concerned about are the complaints I get about needles on the streets,” Breed told members of the media on Friday. “We are talking about a needle exchange, medical services and treatment on demand, so the point is to try and change how we deal with this. Just because we don’t want to see it — people who sadly struggle with drug addiction — doesn’t mean that it’s just going to disappear.”

In locations where they are permitted, such as Vancouver in Canada, such sites have been proven effective in reducing overdose deaths, preventing the transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and reducing drug use and syringes on the streets, according to a statement released by Wiener’s office on Tuesday.

“People are injecting drugs whether or not we intervene,” said Wiener. “Safe injection sites provide people with an opportunity to inject in a clean, safe environment, with healthcare personnel available to prevent overdoses, and with an opportunity to offer people addiction, healthcare, housing, and other services.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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