Feb. 7 (UPI) — California is set to become the first U.S. state to provide legal safe injection sites, with plans to open two facilities in July.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health Wednesday unanimously enforced a task force’s recommendation to open two safe injection facilities, which serve as a place for intravenous drug users to inject under the supervision of trained staff.
“I understand the misgivings around it and some of the rhetoric from people who don’t support it,” San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell said. “But we absolutely need to give it a try.”
San Francisco has an estimated 22,000 intravenous drug users and more than 100 people died in San Francisco of drug overdose in 2017, according to a report published by the city’s Safe Injection Services Task Force.
Many of the city’s intravenous drug users inject openly in public places such as parks and public transit stations, leaving dirty needles strewn about.
Public Health director Barbra Garcia told the San Fransisco Chronicle she is working with six to eight nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and offer other drug addiction services, two of which will be selected to offer safe injection on-site.
Public health officials believe that 85 percent of the city’s intravenous drug users would use the safe injection facilities, potentially saving the government as much as $3.5 million a year in medical costs.
The sites are expected to open “close to” the beginning of San Francisco’s fiscal year on July 1 and will initially be privately funded to help the city avoid liability.
California State Sen. Scott Wiener is still attempting to pass a law ensuring property owners, employees and drug users related to safe injection sites don’t face arrest and supports the sites opening “as quickly as possible.”
“We need to do everything in our power to keep people healthy, to get people off the streets so they’re injecting in a safe space indoors instead of on people’s doorsteps or in public parks, and to make sure we can intervene quickly if they overdose,” he said.
Other U.S. cities including Seattle, Baltimore and Philadelphia are discussing opening safe injection facilities of their own, but San Francisco is expected to be the first.
More than 100 facilities are already operational worldwide in Europe, Canada and Australia.
“There are over 120 of these around the world at this point, and they all operate on the same basic idea,” California state director for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance Laura Thomas said. “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.”