Opposition Mounts to San Francisco’s Plans to Open Nation’s First Drug Injection Center

August 22, 2018 Updated: August 22, 2018    

SAN FRANCISCO—The California state Senate passed a measure on Aug. 21 that would authorize San Francisco to open a facility for injecting illegal drugs—the first of its kind in the nation.

The push for establishing a so-called safe injection facility or supervised injection facility (SIF) has been underway for more than a year. The state Assembly endorsed the bill in June 2017.

While backers of the measure portray it as an urgent public-health measure, a coalition is working to stop the initiative.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, said in a statement, “We are in the midst of an epidemic, and this bill will grant us another tool to fight it—to provide better access to services like treatment and counseling, to better protect public health and safety, and to save lives.”

Meanwhile, the city is pushing ahead with its plans but is doing so gingerly in the face of opposition. A mock injection site will be open to the public on Aug. 28 to 31.

‘Virtual Legalization’

Meanwhile, a coalition of five organizations, together with the California Narcotic Officers’ Association (CNOA), held a joint press conference in San Francisco on Aug. 17 to urge the Department of Justice and local citizens to stop the SIF.

Wayne Lo, Scott Chipman, Faye Maloney, Frank Lee, Bishop Allen, Jim Chow, Charles Huang attend a press conference opposing the opening of a facility for injecting illegal drugs in San Franciso. (Nathan Su/Epoch Times)
Rev. Wayne Lo, Scott Chipman, Faye Maloney, Frank Lee, Bishop Allen, Jim Chow, and Charles Huang attend a press conference opposing the opening of a facility for injecting illegal drugs in San Franciso. (Nathan Su/Epoch Times)

The coalition consists of four California-based and one Vancouver-based organization: Americans Against Legalization of Marijuana, California for Liberty, Christian Social Concern Association (Vancouver), the International Faith Based Coalition, and Organization for Justice and Equality.

The coalition said in a press release that the opening of the injection center would amount to the “virtual legalization of all illegal drugs.”

The CNOA stated there is no pathway to treatment at an injection center, and there are no efforts to ensure that people leaving the center are not impaired and won’t harm themselves or others.

Both press releases noted that with the opening of an SIF, law enforcement officers will be hampered from prosecuting anybody carrying illegal drugs on streets in the city, since the approval of the SIF requires leniency on drug crimes; and there may be tremendous liability issues for the local government if a drug addict dies or is injured due to overdoses in an SIF.

Overdoses

Backers of SIFs say that staff at the facilities can treat those who overdose, saving lives.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in April 2017 stating that “SIS (Safe Injection Sites) reduce overdose deaths for entire neighborhoods around the sites, and there has never been a recorded overdose death in any of the nearly 100 sites around the world.”

Rev. Wayne Lo from Vancouver’s Christian Social Concern Association responded to this claim by quoting data from the British Columbia health department. According to Lo, the story isn’t the deaths inside the facility, but the increase in deaths outside it.

“In 2003, when the injection site first started operation in Vancouver, the total number of overdose deaths was 28. Four years later, in 2007, the total overdose deaths became 46. In 2015, the figure became 134. In 2016, the figure was 215. In 2017, the figure was over 410,” Lo said.

“The injection site was a total failure. Within six blocks in the vicinity of the injection site, a lot of violence happens daily. Used needles can easily be seen around the back alleys. Drug dealers can be seen [at] work within the vicinity. Human urine is everywhere. There is a school within five blocks of the injection site. The students there have to be very careful not to trip on the abandoned needles.”

After a similar SIF was proposed in Vermont, the U.S. Department of Justice released a statement in December 2017 pointing out that such sites are illegal: “It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed. Thus, exposure to criminal charges would arise for users and SIF workers and overseers. The properties that host SIFs would also be subject to federal forfeiture.”

Public Pressure

Under public pressure, San Francisco’s plans have changed a few times.

The San Francisco Health Commission approved the opening of SIFs on Feb. 6. A study showed that the city had an estimated 22,000 intravenous drug users, and there were 100 injection overdose deaths in 2017.

The Health Commission’s approval of opening SIFs was based on the suggestions from the city’s  “Safe Injection Service Task Force.” The current mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, was then the county supervisor who led and supported the efforts by of the Task Force.

The city originally planned to have three to five SIFs, with the first two to open in July. Now, the city is so far only planning to open a mock site at the end of August.

The coalition opposing San Francisco’s SIF might take encouragement from the track record of other cities. Seattle was poised to launch an SIF in November 2017, but failed to do so. Philadelphia approved SIFs in January, but isn’t ready to open one.

The bill passed by the California Senate will now go back to the Assembly. If approved—in June 2017, it passed by only two votes—then it will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

The Epoch Times contacted the San Francisco mayor’s office about the legal status and the safety concerns regarding the planned SIF in the city, but received no response.