SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Legislation that would open the door for nonprofits to operate drug overdose prevention sites in San Francisco was unanimously approved by the SF Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The legislation, introduced by SF Mayor London Breed, would allow for the sites to be operated with private funding, removing a previous barrier related to whether the city could fund such sites.

The City of SF is currently seeking federal guidance on whether or not city funds can be used for such programs, according to a press release from Mayor Breed’s office.

As the city awaits resolution on whether public funds can be used for facilities in which the use of hardcore opioid drugs like heroin and fentanyl is permitted, San Francisco has been in contact with nonprofits about opening a privately funded site, according to the mayor’s office. Mayor Breed and Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced legislation last month to repeal existing permitting structure from 2020. Mayor Breed also asked Board President Aaron Peskin to expedite the ordinance so it could be adopted as soon as possible.

“This legislation is part of our work to bring down the number of fatal overdoses and tackle the challenges driven by fentanyl head on,” said Mayor Breed. “We will continue to work with our non-profits partners who are trying to open overdose prevention sites, fully implement our health strategies to help those struggling with addiction in our streets, and work with law enforcement to close the open-air drug markets.”  

“Repealing this ordinance would eliminate a burdensome permitting structure to opening overdose prevention sites,” said Hillary Ronen, District 9 Supervisor. “We need solutions to open-air drug use and chaotic conditions on the streets. Overdose Prevention Sites are a proven solution to these problems and save countless lives.”  

Legislation establishing a permitting structure for city-funded overdose prevention programs was approved by the board in 2020. But the law as written didn’t allow for any overdose prevention site to be opened until SF was authorized by the state to do so, whether funded by private or public funds.

Since that time, similar sites with private funding have opened in New York and nonprofits in SF have expressed interest in doing the same, according to the mayor’s office. Current San Francisco law would not allow this.

The overdose prevention sites are part of a broader effort by the city to help people struggling with substance abuse that also includes:

  • Expanding access to substance use treatment and services
  • Recovery programs and medicated assisted treatment
  • Doubling the distribution of naloxone in the next three years
  • Increasing social support for people at risk of overdosing
  • Improving conditions in communities where drug use occurs

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The city’s plan also calls for the establishment of “wellness hubs,” according to the mayor’s office. According to the statement, these hubs, “will provide overdose prevention services and resources, services to improve health, and linkages to treatment.”

“Wellness Hubs are a vital part of the San Francisco Department of Public Health strategy to reduce overdose deaths,” said Dr. Hillary Kunins, Director of Behavioral Health Services. “Wellness Hubs will improve the health and wellness of people who use drugs by offering tailored services that reduce risk of overdose death, and offer or connect people to services like treatment for substance use and mental health concerns, medical care, benefits, and more. Today’s vote will help us move forward with this important, lifesaving work.”  

Previous plans to provide safe consumption sites for drug users in the city have been met with a mixed reception from the community.