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S.F. To Open Controversial Safe Injection Sites

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It’s been decades in the making, but on Tuesday afternoon, the city’s Department of Public Health voted unanimously to support the opening of safe injection sites in San Francisco. The spaces would offer intravenous drug users a sanitary spot to inject drugs, with hygiene supplies, a trained staff, and needle disposal boxes. Those who entered would also have access to drug addiction prevention and counseling.

Safe injection sites received a major boost last year, and it’s been full speed ahead ever since. In May, Board of Supervisors President London Breed introduced legislation that created a task force dedicated to investigating its potential efficacy. Their report was good, and last October the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee — made up of Sup. Sandra Fewer, Sup. Jeff Sheehy and Sup. Hillary Ronen — voted unanimously in support of its findings that a safe injection site would positively benefit the city.

But one site alone is not going to do the trick. As Barbara Garcia, Director of the Department of Public Health, says, “To open one site and consider that someone is going to walk a half mile or a mile to their service while they’re being impacted by their craving is not going to happen. Multiple sites are going to be very important to reach the population where they are.”

And with an estimated 22,000 IV drug users in San Francisco, that’s a lot of ground to cover. And it’s going to happen quickly — with officials saying that two could be up and running by early July.

The two locations have yet to be formally identified, but last year the Examiner reported that one may open up at the AIDS Foundation’s Harm Reduction Center on Sixth Street.

While the local legislative hurdles have been cleared, the Chronicle points out that securing funding for the locations will be tricky, as intravenous drug use is technically against the law. If the plans move forward, it could draw additional ire from the Trump Administration, which has already spurned S.F. for its sanctuary city policies.

But Garcia has local health crises, not national politics, on her mind. “I’m more worried about people dying in our streets,” she said.

Her priorities are in the right place. According to public health officials, 85 percent of the city’s 22,000 intravenous drug users are expected to use safe injection sites, saving the city up to $3.5 million in medical costs — not to mention the exorbitant time staff from the Department of Public Works spend picking up used and discarded needles.

And as always, San Francisco is setting the stage for the rest of the country. As Time just reported, Philadelphia is not far behind us in launching a safe injection facility of its own.

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Nuala Sawyer Bishari

Nuala Sawyer Bishari is the News Editor at SF Weekly. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBestNuala or nualawrites.com.

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