Are safe consumption sites part of the solution to SF's drug overdose crisis?

Tara Campbell Image
Monday, February 6, 2023
Will safe consumption sites help SF's drug overdose crisis?
Here's what San Francisco needs in order to operate safe consumption sites, which supervisors say are crucial in overcoming the drug overdose crisis.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In the battle against the drug overdose crisis, San Francisco is staring down safe consumption sites as part of the solution. But will it be the thing that can finally prove to be effective?

"The bottom line is we're sick of talking about this," Supervisor Hillary Ronen said. "We've been talking about it for years."

Supervisor Ronen is talking about safe consumption sites, places people can go to use their drugs under supervision in case of an overdose and get connected to treatment and other services.

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The Board of Supervisors says the sites could be part of the solution to San Francisco's drug overdose crisis.

"The city would pay for the majority of services in a center like that," Supervisor Ronen said.

However, legal concerns are slowing safe consumption sites down.

"What the city wouldn't pay for is the staffing of the room that is watching people to make sure they don't overdose when they use drugs because under federal law that is still illegal," Supervisor Ronen said.

VIDEO: 'Injecting Hope' | Watch documentary on innovative program tackling drug overdose, fentanyl epidemic

ABC7's Injecting Hope looks at an innovative program in Canada that is saving lives by giving users a safe place to get high.

And so they're turning to nonprofits to take the legal risk. Lydia Bransten is the executive director of The Gubbio Project.

"I do believe when it comes to life-saving services you need to take a stand," Bransten said.

And she says in order to do that, they need time to raise funds and a contract with the city - clearly laying out what they're paying for and what they're not.

Bransten estimates it will cost nearly $1.5 million a year to operate a single safe consumption site.

"That would include having staff, the equipment that we need, and also making sure we have EMTs on-site," she said.

A nonprofit in New York City has been operating two privately-funded sites for more than a year - and so far the DOJ's turned a blind eye, but there's concern that could change.

TOWN HALL: In-depth look at how Vancouver is dealing with drug overdose crisis

ABC7 reporter Tara Campbell and experts explore how Vancouver's safe injecting site program is combatting the drug overdose crisis.

"What's standing in between the city opening these centers, and not, is the City Attorney's Office," Supervisor Ronen said.

The City Attorney's Office has signaled support for the New York model, but Supervisor Ronen says it's taking too much time.

"When we get down to the details they say they won't sign off on contracts and they won't allow us to use opioid settlement funds for the purpose, so it's a lot of yes and no at the same time," she said.

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