Aug 10, 2022 - Politics

D6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey to push for safe consumption sites

A man using narcotics.

A man utilizes one of New York City's safe consumption sites. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey intends to "fight hard" to establish safe consumption sites in San Francisco, telling Axios it's "a strategy that can save lives."

Why it matters: The city's in the midst of a drug overdose epidemic, largely driven by the opioid fentanyl. While accidental overdose deaths were 7% lower in 2021 than 2020, raw numbers remain high.

  • Last year, 650 people died of accidental overdoses, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Between January and June, the city counted 297 overdose deaths.

Details: Safe consumption sites, or overdose prevention programs, are designed to provide sterile drug consumption supplies, referrals to treatment programs and trained staff to administer drugs to reverse an opioid overdose.

  • Proponents argue these sites prevent overdose deaths, reduce the risk of HIV/hepatitis C transmission and result in less public drug use.

The other side: Opponents claim "the unintended consequence of this bill is to normalize substance abuse."

  • Critics have also argued that the sites fail to guarantee that people leaving the facilities "are not so impaired" they harm themselves or others.

Driving the news: A bill legalizing safe consumption sites in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles passed in the state Senate earlier this month. The measure is awaiting final approval from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

  • The sites, if approved, would be stocked with clean supplies, like needles, and staffed with clinicians trained to help prevent overdoses.
  • The city would need to give public health officials, law enforcement and the public an opportunity to comment on the program before moving forward, per the bill.

What they're saying: "My worry is that we've so lost the confidence of San Franciscans that it's going to be pitchforks and torches if we move forward on anything," Dorsey said.

  • Based on conversations Dorsey's had with residents, he's picked up on "a lot of suspicion" people have around the city's response to the drug epidemic. He added, residents think "anything the city is going to do to solve this problem" will make their neighborhoods worse.
  • To address concerns, Dorsey said the city would prioritize enforcement of drug dealing, as outlined in his proposed "Right to Recovery" bill.

Flashback: In Nov. 2021, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said she was pushing to open a supervised drug site near the Tenderloin, but that hasn't happened yet.

  • The mayor's office tells Axios it's "closely monitoring" the bill's progress, as "safe consumption sites are one part of the city's larger strategy to reduce overdoses on our streets."
  • That plan, as of June, entailed opening a drug sobering center in SOMA.
  • Of note: In May, people were reportedly doing drugs inside a Tenderloin facility designed to provide overdose prevention supplies and other health services, per the San Francisco Standard.

Zoom out: Europe, Canada and Australia have operated safe consumption sites for decades, and the 170+ facilities in operation have not recorded a single overdose death.

What's next: If Newsom signs the bill, the law would go into effect in January 2023.

  • San Francisco would then need to select an organization to run the program.

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