The final report from the Safe Injection Services Task Force recommends that San Francisco should set up multiple safe injection sites to help address a longstanding public health issue. The SF Examiner writes that the task force's report, published Friday, may bring San Francisco a step closer to being the first U.S. city with safe injection sites designed to help people inject drugs safely onsite. In addition to providing medical oversight, the sites would also act as a link to further resources that may help people curb addition.
London Breed, president of the Board of Supervisors, organized the task force. While introducting the report, she touched on the importance of creating safe injection sites. She wrote: "It is simply not enough to provide voluntary detox services or clean syringe exchanges; we need to provide a robust continuum of care and a welcoming environment for those struggling with drug abuse. We need a one-stop shop of wraparound services that provide hope for a healthier life and opportunities for rehabilitation." The city's current efforts to promote safe injection include needle exchange programs, but the task force's report says that such programs aren't enough on their own. According to the report, even one safe injection site could result in a myriad of health benefits for the city in general, including: 415 less hospital stays, a decrease in HIV cases, 19 less cases of Hepatitis C, and $3.5 million in net savings.
While the task force's report is able to make a case for the impact safe injection sites can have on general public health, it recognizes that there's still a lot of work to be done, legally speaking. Possession of many of the drugs in question (heroin, crystal methamphetamine, etc.) are prohibited by state and federal government, and that opens up some hairy issues for any place designated to be a safe injection site, as building owners face legal risk for allowing the distribution and usage of such drugs on their property. The report acknowledges this grey area:
The possession of controlled substances - unless the possession is with the prescription of a licensed health professional - is prohibited by both state and federal law. State and federal law also prohibits building owners and operators from allowing the manufacture, storage, or distribution of a controlled substance, and criminal and civil penalties may be imposed on all parties engaged in the property.
Their recommendation regarding that particular issue is to suggest that the city continue to advocate for Assembly Bill 186, which exempts safe injection sites from the current law.
Creating safe injection sites is going to take a strong joint effort on the part of many different aspects of city administration and government. The report continues: "In order to proceed with operating safe injection services, San Francisco must be deliberate in formulating a way forward for local agencies, community organizations and building owners that includes local protections and procedures to respond to potential legal repercussions."
In a separate story on the task force's recommendations, the Examiner reported that the mayor's office is open and willing to work on getting these sites opened. Ellen Canale, spokesperson for Mayor Ed Lee, wrote, "The mayor will review the recommendations of the task force and looks forward to working with the Board of Supervisors and the community on this issue." The report and its recommendations will be reviewed at a hearing on Wednesday by the Neighborhood Services Committee and the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety.