The city's senior health official endorsed the idea of establishing safe-injection sites for intravenous drug users yesterday at a Board of Supervisors meeting, aligning herself with what she says is clear scientific evidence in support of the idea and putting her in opposition to the position of the Mayor's office. Mission Local reports that the statement of support, made by Department of Public Health director Barbara Garcia, will likely provide ammunition to Supervisor David Campos who has backed the idea in the past.
“We know that in many of our public locations, people are shooting up drugs," the Examiner quotes Garcia as saying. "We know in the bathroom at 101 Grove [Street] people come into shoot drugs. We just have to acknowledge that publicly. We do have to find resources and locations for people to be safe in those needs.”
According to the Chronicle, Garcia said that in order for the sites to make a lasting difference the city would need to open around six of them at an estimated cost of roughly $3.5 million per year. However, she suggested that even one site could have a positive impact. “I think even if we were to open one it would be very successful.”
Mayor Ed Lee, who is traveling out of the country, has not immediately issued a statement on the matter. His spokesperson, Deirdre Hussey, on the other hand was quick to jump into the fray. “There are many issues with this, the main issue being that it is currently illegal under state and federal law,” Hussey told the Chron. “As the director of public health stated, there are many considerations, including what neighborhoods to place them in and what the impact on those neighborhoods would be, as well as medical liability, cost and the long-term effectiveness of such a program.”
This is not the first time safe-injection sites have been discussed. In fact, there was some hope they would be included in the city's Navigation Centers, but language allowing for them was removed from the legislation approving the shelters at the behest of Jeff Kositsky, the head of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
Even with the support of Garcia and Campos, who told the Chronicle that he believed "most people are open to this as an option, because the status quo is so bad,” we're not likely to see the idea in practice anytime soon. That is because, as Hussey pointed out, it's presently against state law. Even so, Garcia has made waves simply by acknowledging the city would be well served by safe-injection sites. “It’s a good idea,” she said. “The research has already shown that it does provide a safe access for getting health-related services and also an ability to inject in a safe location.”
Related: Video: Step Inside The New Homeless Navigation Center In The Mission