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Task force to explore opening safe injection sites in SF

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(L-R) Moses Richards and Caldin Johnson, Downtown Streets Team members hold containers filled with approximately 50 needles that the street team collected them from the ground and grasses along Market Street in San Francisco on Thursday, March 17, 2016. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Taking a page out of Seattle’s playbook, San Francisco intends to establish a task force to examine opening safe injection sites to combat drug addiction.

Seattle’s Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force convened last year and ultimately recommended the creation of safe injection sites to combat drug addiction amid the nationwide opioid epidemic. Last month, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced he would open two such facilities — the first two in the U.S., though there are some operating in other countries.

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The facilities allow intravenous drug users to inject drugs under supervision and are connected to various services to help people recover from addiction. City health officials estimate there are 22,000 intravenous drug users in San Francisco.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed announced during Tuesday’s board meeting that she has asked the City Attorney’s Office to draft legislation she would introduce in the coming weeks to create a safe injection services task force.

“San Francisco must find effective ways to connect addicts to available resources,” Breed said. “We have to research it.” The task force would sunset after one year.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy said he will support Breed’s task force proposal. “I know this has been a contentious issue,” Sheehy said. “But guided by sound data, public health interventions of this sort have been really effective.”

Meanwhile, Assemblymember Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, introduced a state bill Jan. 19 co-authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that would permit cities like San Francisco to operate safe injection facilities. The bill would provide legal protections for clients, operators and landlords of such facilities and require annual reporting of such data like the number of overdoses reversed onsite and number of clients referred to other services.

Mayor Ed Lee had sharply criticized the idea of safe injection sites last year but he has since slightly softened his position, stating he is open to the idea.

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