drugpolicy.org, October 22, 2007

San Francisco study supervised injecting rooms

On October 18, the Drug Policy Alliance, along with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the Harm Reduction Coalition, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, cosponsored a full-day symposium that examined the needs, feasibility, support, and various options for a legal Safe Injection Facility for homeless and marginally housed injection drug users (IDUs) in San Francisco, and for the community impacted by them.

Organized by the Alliance for Saving Lives, a local consortium of community-based organizations of which DPA is a member, the symposium included public health officials, service providers, legal experts, injection drug users, community groups, leaders in the faith community, and evaluators from InSite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver, Canada.

San Francisco has several large concentrations of injection drug users (IDUs), and while HIV prevalence remains relatively low among IDUs, rates of hepatitis C have reached epidemic levels and fatal opiate overdose remains one of the leading causes of death in San Francisco. Community concerns regarding public drug use and improperly discarded syringes have been raised repeatedly over the last few decades.

Forty other cities in eight countries around the world facing similar issues have opened Safe Injection Facilities since the first one opened in Switzerland in 1986, and last week's symposium opened a broad discussion about this option for San Francisco.

Positive research results from InSite were presented at the symposium. After four years of operation, the Vancouver facility has seen: reduction of public disorder related to injection drug use; reduction of unsafe disposal of syringes; no adverse affect in community drug use patterns; and no increase in drug-related crime.

Scott Burris, law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, examined the legal landscape around setting up a safe injection facility. Mr. Burris painted a picture of the current legal and political realities and left the audience with the message that where there is a political will, there is a legal way to move forward.

The day concluded with a panel discussion about next steps for turning the day's vision into a reality in San Francisco. Remarking upon the palpable energy in the room, panelists spoke about the need for outreach and education across a broad spectrum of communities. While acknowledging the very real hurdles ahead, the audience demonstrated significant confidence that San Francisco is the city that can lead the way.

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