Whether you’re a local or a tourist, it’s no secret that the Bay Area has a drug problem. A quick walk in San Francisco reveals just how much illegal drugs, such as opioids, have become a part of Bay Area culture. Just about every other day, SF locals witness the sick and the homeless injecting themselves with illegal opioid drugs. According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, 331 individuals have died from opioid overdoses from 2010 to 2012 alone. Nationally, the opioid epidemic is even worse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. Current efforts to help solve this problem are only making minimal progress. With the opioid epidemic heading on a dangerous trajectory, San Francisco needs to implement safe injection sites so that the city, as well as the country, can start recovering.
Safe injection sites are facilities that allow visitors to safely take illicit drugs under medical supervision. They also provide access to resources that can help people struggling with addiction. The purpose of safe injection sites is to create an environment in which people can safely take drugs and seek help for their problems. This is not to be confused with needle-exchange sites, where clean syringes are given out, but injection is not supervised. Although it seems like a radical approach, the country is facing an unprecedented amount of cases dealing with drug abuse. Opponents of safe injection sites argue they are nothing more than places where people can do drugs without getting in trouble. Although opponents’ arguments hold merit, many are starting to change their minds once faced with the enormity of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. For instance, just last year Congress ended the ban on federal funding for sterile needles. President Donald Trump is even calling the opioid epidemic “the worst drug crisis in American history.” Now that viewpoints and opinions are changing on drug abuse, now it’s time to change our approach and implement a system that focuses on rehabilitation for those struggling with their addiction.
As of now, San Francisco stands as one of the most viable cities in America for safe injection sites to be implemented because of the city’s consistent problem with illegal drugs, according to a recent report by the Safe Injection Services Task Force. London Breed, who organized the task force and currently serves as president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, stated that the current approach to treating drug abuse is not enough, and that more can be done effectively with safe injection sites. The task force’s report estimates that even one safe injection site could result in 415 less hospital stays, a decrease in HIV cases, 19 less cases of Hepatitis C and $3.5 million in net savings over the course of one year. Many other health groups reported similar findings. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that safe injection sites have “been shown to improve individual health, such as overdose mortality rates, drug use and enrollment in drug treatment, HIV and viral hepatitis risk, and access to health and social services.” The potential benefits of even one safe injection site raises the question as to why we haven’t put a program in place yet.
The main problem in implementing this program is in its legality. As of right now, both state and federal law prohibit the possession and/or use of illegal drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. This hinders the program from moving forward, as property owners are likely to find themselves in legal trouble for allowing the distribution and usage of illegal drugs within their property. However, safe injection sites do not need full legalization of illegal drugs. Instead, the task force recommended that the city advocate for Assembly Bill 186, which exempts safe injection sites from the current laws. The Examiner reported that San Francisco mayor Ed Lee is strongly considering the task force’s recommendations and hopes to work with the entirety of the SF community in addressing the issue.
If San Francisco chooses to pursue this, it would be the first U.S. city to implement safe injection sites. Taking on such a formidable task would require all of San Francisco’s local government to work together, from local law enforcement to local lawmakers. Despite the obstacles, the main concern is the health and well-being of those who struggle with drug addiction. The current approach to treating drug abuse is simply not enough, and more needs to be done. Safe injection sites have the potential to be one of the leading ways of confronting drug-related problems not only in the Bay Area, but in the country as well. By implementing safe injection sites, San Francisco would be bringing us one step closer to improving the lives of many.
Featured Photo: The opioid epidemic is rampant in San Francisco. Freshman Paolo Sayas explores if safe injection sites are the answer. OverHook/PhotoLizM