Community in Crisis

Hope for safe injection sites in San Francisco returns after federal judge’s ruling

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — San Francisco could be one step closer to opening a safe injection site — a place where people can inject drugs and have medical help nearby if needed.

Wednesday, a federal judge ruled a Philadelphia nonprofit’s proposal to open the nation’s first safe injection site does not violate federal drug laws.

Advocates in Philadelphia and now in San Francisco say this boosts their efforts to open these kinds of sites.

“People are using drugs and just because we don’t want to see it, doesn’t mean it’s just going to disappear,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

Breed says the federal judge’s ruling on Wednesday that safe injection sites do not violate federal drug laws gives her hope.

“Safe injection sites are just not a place for people to shoot up. It’s really about trying to make sure we are providing treatment on demand,” Breed said.

U.S. District Judge Gerald A. Mchugh’s ruling means that a Philadelphia nonprofit group can move forward with their plan to open the first safe injection site in the U.S. 

Mchugh wrote that “Safe injection sites were not considered by Congress and could not have been, because their use as a possible harm reduction strategy among opioid users had not yet entered public discourse.”

The justice department appeared likely to challenge the decision.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said they’re disappointed and will take all available steps to pursue further judicial review.

He said in a statement that, “Any attempt to open illicit drug injection sites in other jurisdictions while this case is pending will continue to be met with immediate action by the department.”

But some officials in San Francisco say this ruling could be what brings the city one step closer to possibly opening a safe injection site — a move they’ve wanted to do for years.

Supervisor Matt Haney said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation authorizing and requiring the city to create a site and work alongside the mayor. 

He said, “As we speak people are shooting up on the streets of my district and overdoses are happening everyday- we need to get these people off the streets.”

“Safe Injection Sites will be another tool in our toolbox to help people get the help they need and get into treatment and also to prevent overdose deaths,” said Grant Colfax, San Francisco public health director.

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