San Francisco is not the only city that has fielded the possibility of opening a supervised injection facility, which is prohibited under federal law. However, that’s closer to reality than ever, after final revisions of the bill (AB186) to allow the city to establish a SIF were approved by the state Assembly. AB186 now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown.
The goal of opening such a site is to keep drug use off the streets, while giving people a safe place to use.
“I refuse to accept what we see on our streets—the needles, the open drug use, the human suffering caused by addiction—as the new status quo,” said Mayor London Breed in a statement. “Safe injection sites are a proven, evidence-based approach to solving this public health crisis.”
TheSan Francisco Chronicle offered a glimpse inside the Safer Inside demonstration. “Clients” who wish to use the facility register upon entering, and are then led to the injection room. They are provided with a “harm reduction kit” containing clean syringes, disinfecting wipes, cotton balls, tourniquets, and “cookers” to cook the drug.
They may inject at a table facing a small mirror that will allow staff to observe from a distance. “This way, we can check in on them without actually having to invade their space and their privacy,” said Kenneth Kim, clinical director at Glide. Afterwards, clients are ushered to a “chill-out room” where they can ride out their highs.
Despite the accommodations for drug use, public health officials are most proud that these facilities will offer a range of services geared toward giving clients a chance to get well. Services include meal services, showers, dental care, and mental health and medical referrals, according to the SF Chronicle.
“The readiness to take that next step or maybe go to recovery can start in a place where there’s dignity and respect and relationships,” said Anel Muller, who designed the prototype facility. “That’s not something that will happen overnight, but once you’re creating those great foundations, it becomes much easier to talk about a lot of different things.”
The greatest hurdle San Francisco officials may face is the federal government. Last Monday (August 27), US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reiterated the federal government’s stance on SIFs—declaring them “very dangerous” and that they will “only make the opioid crisis worse.”
“Because federal law clearly prohibits injection sites, cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action,” said Rosenstein.