San Francisco Set To Open Nation's First Supervised Injection Sites This Summer

By Victoria Kim 02/14/18

The two sites will serve the estimated 22,000 people who inject drugs in San Francisco.

Powell Hyde cable car, an iconic tourist attraction, descending a steep hill peak overlooking Alcatraz prison island and the bay

After a unanimous vote endorsing safe injection sites in San Francisco by the local Health Commission, the city is moving forward with plans to establish two sites by the summer. They would be the first to open in the United States. 

The sites will serve the estimated 22,000 people who inject drugs (PWID) in San Francisco, in facilities traditionally equipped with supervising medical staff, clean needles, and resources for people seeking treatment.

There are more than 120 such facilities operating worldwide, including in Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Spain, and France, according to Laura Thomas, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “You show up, you check in, you use your drugs, you hang out for a while, interact with the staff and then go on your way,” said Thomas, according to CNN.

The two locations are slated to be up and running by July. City officials say the sites will do more than improve the state of public health in San Francisco—the SIFs are projected to save the city about $3.5 million annually in costs related to drug addiction, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Still, the sites are controversial. “I understand the misgivings around it and some of the rhetoric from people who don’t support it,” said Mayor Mark Farrell. “But we absolutely need to give it a try.”

Meanwhile, California legislators have introduced a bill that would protect people who use or operate SIFs from arrest.

Other cities that have expressed interest in establishing SIFs include Seattle, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Ithaca and New York City.

In January, Philadelphia officials announced plans to open “Comprehensive User Engagement Sites” as part of a larger effort to address the city’s drug crisis. They so far have the support of everyone from the mayor to the police commissioner.

Safe injection in Seattle was recently endorsed by the Health Care Workers for Safe Consumption Spaces, a coalition of medical professionals who support SIFs, as reported in Seattle Weekly.

“They connect people to services, which gives them access to treatment, so it actually lessens drug use,” said Mandy Sladky, a registered nurse who co-founded the SIF support organization. “It certainly lessens outdoor public use—and therefore discarding syringes in places like alleyways and parks. And crime does not increase in the areas.”

CNN cites more than 100 peer-reviewed studies that illustrate the positive impact that SIFs have had on reducing drug-related deaths and preventing the transmission of HIV or viral hepatitis.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr