San Francisco Unveils 'Safe Spaces' For Injecting Heroin

In 1971, the Nixon administration coined the term “War on Drugs.” Nixon’s crusade to eliminate illegal drug-use turned into propaganda by state-run media and was championed by succeeding presidents, including Reagan. Four decades and counting: The continued failure of the War on Drugs has led the government to waste hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer dollars and turned America’s prison system into a dystopian nightmare.

Prohibition of drugs is not only ineffective, but counterproductive, at achieving positive outcomes for society. Given the fact that the War on Drugs has contributed to an increase in drug overdoses and fostered the creation of powerful drug cartels domestically and internationally.

We have to ask the question: What can America do differently since the War on Drugs has failed?

The answer could be in the city of San Francisco, as the Department of Public Health is on pace to open two safe injections sites this July, which could become the nation’s first legal, safe injection site aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic. The facilities are considered safe spaces where drug abusers can inject drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, under the careful supervision of trained medical staff to respond in the event of an overdose or other medical emergencies, said CNN.

While San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell believes the controversial facilities are not the ideal solution, he thinks the city has no other choice in arresting the out of control overdose deaths ravaging the region.

“I understand the misgivings around it and some of the rhetoric from people who don’t support it,” Farrell said last week. “But we absolutely need to give it a try.”

Other cities — including Seattle, Baltimore, and Philadelphia — are discussing safe injection facilities with their community leaders, but San Francisco could be the first in the next few months. For some time, facilities in Australia, Canada, and Europe have been providing a friendly environment for drug users to chase the dragon. 

On a side note, more than 63,000 people overdosed and died in 2016, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is more than the number of Americans killed in Vietnam. Over the next decade, it is projected that half of million people will overdose and die in the United States, exceeding the number of Americans killed in World War II.

San Franciso’s plans to open both safe space facilities are around the July timeframe.

I’m really excited,” said Laura Thomas, the California state director for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. I’ve been working on this particular issue for over a decade.

According to the Safe Injection Services Task Force, there are some 22,000 intravenous drug users scattered around San Francisco, which the number is growing as the technology boom has priced many people out of homes which contributed to an explosion in the homeless population, and of course, has led many to a life of drugs on the streets.

CNN says there are more than 100 peer-reviewed white papers on safe spaces for injection sites, which most papers show declining overdose deaths and positive results for the community.

 More than 100 peer-reviewed studies on safe injection sites — otherwise known as supervised consumption facilities — have consistently shown them to be effective at reducing overdose deaths, preventing transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, reducing street-based drug use and linking people to drug treatment and other services.

Rachel Kagan, director of communications at the San Francisco Department of Public Health said the safe spaces save the city approximately $3.5 million per annum in overdose-related medical costs, which ultimately frees up hospitals.

There are currently two facilities with six to eight nonprofit organizations in the running to operate the facilities and other drug addiction services around the city, Kagan added.

According to Kagan, funding will come from the private sector to circumvent liability issues, since intravenous drug use is deemed illegal under state and federal law.

“There are over 120 of these around the world at this point, and they all operate on the same basic idea,” Thomas said, referring to locations in Canada, Europe, and Australia. “You show up; you check in; you use your drugs; you hang out for a while, interact with the staff and then go on your way.”

According to an Australian government report, a safe injection site in Sydney managed 3,426 overdose-related events without a single fatality over a period of nine years. The report further said residents noticed a decline of drug addicts shooting up in public.

“One of the biggest supervised injection facilities in the world — certainly in North America — is Insite in Vancouver, British Columbia,” Thomas said. “There’s a nurse’s station in the middle of the room that has all of the syringes, sterile supplies that they may need, and then they go through the usual process of preparing their drugs and injecting them, all under the supervision of trained staff.”

Interesting enough, the sites in San Francisco are considered illegal under California and federal laws, state legislators are rushing to pass a bill that will protect injection sites, property owners, employees, and drug users from arrest. A version of the bill passed in the State Assembly last year but was two votes short in the state Senate, according to Thomas.

“It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that San Francisco has prioritized the health, safety and well-being of its residents over state or federal law,” Thomas added. “Times have changed. The biggest threats we’re seeing aren’t crack houses in urban neighborhoods but overdose deaths and people injecting on the streets.”

A poll directed by David Binder Research in January among 500 registered voters found that 67% of respondents liked the idea, while 27% opposed it, and 6% didn’t know.