Advocates of Legal Drug Injection Center in San Francisco Discuss Support of Idea
Supporters of a potential city-funded, legal center in San Francisco where injection drug users can use drugs under medical supervision gathered Thursday to discuss the idea, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The event was sponsored by the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the Alliance for Saving Lives, a coalition that includes the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, the Harm Reduction Coalition and San Francisco General Hospital's Opiate Treatment Outpatient Program.
Supporters of the center say it can reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, prevent deaths from drug overdoses and prevent used needles from circulating in the community. Advocates are collecting signatures on a letter to send to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Mitch Katz, the head of the health department. In the letter, advocates "call on San Francisco to create a legal safer injection facility staffed with trained medical professionals. ... Please help us make this critical program a reality" (Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/19).
Organizers of the event said it could take years to establish a center, citing potential state and federal legal issues and political opposition, the AP/Google.com reports (Leff, AP/Google.com, 10/19). Advocates for the center cited the success of a similar program, Insite, in Vancouver, Canada, which they said has helped reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases and prevent deaths (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/19).
There are about 11,000 to 15,000 IDUs in San Francisco, most of whom are homeless men. The city operates a needle-exchange program to help reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases. San Francisco is the first U.S. city to consider a drug injection center. Sixty-five such centers exist in 27 cities in eight countries, Hilary McQuie, Western director of HRC, said. Possible locations for a center in San Francisco include homeless shelters, HIV/AIDS clinics or drug treatment centers, Andrew Reynolds, a program coordinator for the city's sexually transmitted infection clinic, said.
According to San Francisco Fire Department Captain Niels Tangherlini, overdoses from injection drug use represented one of every seven emergency calls handled by city paramedics between July 2006 and July 2007. He added that the number of deaths from drug overdose decreased from a peak of 160 in 1995 to 40 in 2004 (AP/Google.com, 10/19).
Newsom on Thursday said that although he is not "ideologically against" the center, he is doubtful that any neighborhood in the city would be willing to host the center (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/19). Newsom spokesperson Nathan Ballard said that the mayor does not want to discourage debate about the establishment of a center but added that Newsom is "not inclined to support this program because, quite frankly, it may create more problems than it supposedly addresses."
Bertha Madras, deputy director of demand reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the consideration of a drug injection center is "disconcerting" and "poor public policy." She added that establishing such a center would be a "form of giving up." McQuie said that if such a center is established in the U.S., "it will most likely start in San Francisco." She added that the establishment of a center "depends on if there is a political will" and that the "main factor" is "how long it takes for that political will to develop" (AP/Google.com, 10/19).
NPR's "Day to Day" on Thursday included a discussion with Thomas Kerr, lead scientist at Insite, about the San Francisco proposal (Brand, "Day to Day," NPR, 10/18). Audio of the segment is available online.