California Users' Union Fights for Safe-Injection Site

By McCarton Ackerman 03/12/12

A San Francisco group argues that America's first supervised injection facility would bring major health benefits.

Vancouver's Insite facility has inspired
would-be imitators.
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A group called the San Francisco Drug Users' Union is campaigning to open the first supervised injection facility in the US. A similar site currently exists in Vancouver,  where it's largely been considered a success. Advocates say it would not only help prevent Hep C and HIV infections for intravenous drug users who often use dirty needles, but also provide a gateway to other health services, including rehabilitation, for addicts who wouldn't otherwise seek help. “I think people feel that drug users are powerless or are impossible to work with, that we can’t get it together,” says the Drug Users' Union's co-founder, Isaac Jackson. "But I don’t think that’s true.” The Union has won support from the Hepatitis C Task Force and several of last fall's mayoral candidates, like John Avalos, a leader of the progressive bloc of the city’s all-Democrat Board of Supervisors. But a spokeswoman for San Francisco's Mayor Ed Lee confirms that he opposes the idea, believing the city already has ample tools to tackle the problem of IV drug use, like syringe exchanges. The San Francisco group is one of several in the North America advocating for chronic drug users—promoting the reality that people do use drugs, rather than promoting drug use itself. The organization has struggled to overcome stigma: "[People] think of union as a kind of trade union," says Jackson. "They don’t understand that we’re using ‘union’ in the sense of a consumer union. And we’re consumers of drug policies, we’re consumers of rehab, we’re consumers of drugs.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.