Safe drug injection sites in San Francisco expected to open in July, be first in nation

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The San Francisco Health Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to support the opening of safe injection sites, which will offer intravenous drug users a clean spot to inject drugs, despite the fact that this drug use is against the law and could draw the ire of the Trump Administration.

There are an estimated 22,000 IV drug users in San Francisco, and 100 injected drug overdose deaths a year in the city, according to Board Supervisor London Breed, who pushed for the centers and was on the SF Safe Injection Services Task Force.

When they open in July, that would make San Francisco the first city in the country to embrace this controversial model, the Chronicle reported.

Other cities — including Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Ithaca, New York City, Portland and Philadelphia — are talking about opening their own safe injection facilities but haven't done so, and similar centers already exist in Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark, Luxembourg and France.

This vote comes after years of hard work from activists in the liberal city who have steadily argued that it's important to have these sites, which would have proper hygiene supplies, a trained staff, needle disposal boxes, and access to drug counseling, SF Weekly reported.

The safe injection sites could mean fewer dirty needles on the streets, since they’d be collected inside. Public health officials believe that 85 percent of the city’s intravenous drug users would use safe injection sites and that the city could save $3.5 million a year in medical costs, according to the SIS Task Force Final Report.

Shelby Cook said she sees people shooting up on the streets all the time. "Your stomach just sort of drops," she said. "You feel bad for the person. You're wondering where they're going to dispose their needles."

Other San Franciscans had some reservations. Lemuel Sanders said he's all for people having a safe spot, but "where would you put it?" And would the center become a homeless shelter insite of a safe injection site, he wondered.

The two locations have yet to be formally identified, but last year the Examiner reported that one may open up at the AIDS Foundation’s Harm Reduction Center on Sixth Street.

Both sites could be up and running by July.

Rachel Kagan, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, told KTVU on Wednesday that "we are working with several nonprofits and community organizations that already serve this population to expand services to include supervised injections."

While the sites should get no real objection in San Francisco, The Chronicle pointed out that getting any federal money will be a challenge, as intravenous drug use is technically against the law. Kagan said San Francisco's sites will be privately funded at first.