Supervisor London Breed, who has lost family members to addiction, has come out as a strong advocate for establishing safe-injection sites in San Francisco a controversial topic for some who see such sites as government-funded encouragement for intravenous drug use. She was one of multiple officials and advocates who spoke on the steps of City Hall on Monday announcing the launch of a task force that will, in the next several months, produce a report to analyze the potential for creating "safe consumption services" in SF, where drug users can have clean spaces, clean needles, and supervision to prevent overdoses as well as the possibility of directing them to counseling services. "I don't want to make it easy for people to use drugs," Breed said at the event, as ABC 7 reports, "but I also would have liked for my sister to be able to have a place that could have saved her life."
Park Station Officer Therese Deignan, who serves as the station's community liaison, says everyone in the Haight neighborhood, for instance, has "mixed feelings" about creating a safe-injection site. "Are they going to become more aggressive or violent?" she asks, referring to the drug users who leave these sites and then return to the streets (assuming she means those shooting meth?).
But public health advocates and experts in drug treatment feel that providing such sites will only help stem the tide of addiction, creating trust with users, giving them places where they don't need to feel rushed or watched by law enforcement, and ultimately perhaps getting them treatment.
Department of Public Health director Barbara Garcia officially endorsed safe-injection sites late last year, saying, "We know that in many of our public locations, people are shooting up drugs. We know in the bathroom at 101 Grove [Street] people come in to 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."
Speaking at Monday's media event, Holly Bradford, program coordinator of the San Francisco Drug Users Union, spoke out saying, "The reason we're here is because our friends are dead, our family members have passed on the streets, in bathrooms, in alleys." According to Hoodline, Bradford further said, "This is the San Francisco I heard about back in the day. Where they actually stepped up to the plate and did something around public health."
Through harm reduction, many advocates believe that rates of hepatitis C, HIV, and skin infections can go down among drug users on the street, saving the city money in emergency health care. But, as Hoodline explains, state law still needs to change to allow safe-injection sites, with one bill currently being considered by the Assembly being Step 1. Also, Mayor Ed Lee is still not completely on board, but a rep for the mayor says he's looking forward to hearing the task force's recommendations.
Earlier this year, the New York Times looked back the first needle-exchange programs that were created two decades ago, first in Tacoma, WA and then in New York, which were shown to drastically reduce the percentage of drug users contracting HIV. Vancouver established the first safe-injection facility in North America in 2003, and the group that manages the oldest clinic there, Insite, says that they've had a 30 percent increase of referrals to detox services through their program, and out of 5,000 overdoses that have taken place at the facility, there have been zero deaths.