Dec 14, 2022 - News

SF supervisors push for city to fund safe consumption sites

Safe consumption site

A person uses a safe consumption site in New York City. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Eight San Francisco supervisors introduced legislation on Tuesday, calling on the city to commit $5.5 million to open supervised drug consumption sites.

Why it matters: San Francisco is in the midst of a deadly drug overdose epidemic, largely driven by the opioid fentanyl. While accidental overdose deaths were 11% lower in 2021 than 2020, the 625 overdoses last year represented 41% more than pre-pandemic levels, per the city's Department of Public Health.

  • Safe consumption sites have been proven to save lives, providing trained staff to administer drugs to reverse overdoses and offering sterile drug consumption supplies.

Details: The proposed legislation calls for a supplemental budget to fund the "near-term" opening of wellness hubs, per a press release.

Driving the news: Nonprofit The Gubbio Project was set to open a "wellness hub," including safe consumption site, in the Mission this month.

  • Those plans, however, fell through this month due to "legal issues related to city resources" that must be addressed first, a spokesperson for Mayor London Breed told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Of note: Safe consumption sites are illegal at both the state and federal level.

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill in August that would have legalized the sites in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. The move was due to concerns about the operations of such places without "strong" and "engaged" leadership and planning.
  • Meanwhile, the city last week shut down the Tenderloin Center, a temporary site where safe consumption took place that reversed more than 300 overdoses in its 11 months of operation.

What they're saying: Supervisor Dean Preston called the closure "cruel and reckless" in a press release, adding the Board of Supervisors "will need to ramp up pressure" to see safe consumption sites in the city. "Any further delays will put more lives in danger," he said.

The other side: Breed supports the sites, a spokesperson for her office told Axios in a statement.

  • But, but, but: The office says it's waiting to take further action until the U.S. Department of Justice provides legal guidance, adding, "funding is not the issue around these sites. It's the legal barriers."
  • Meanwhile, opponents of safe consumption sites have argued the facilities normalize substance abuse.

Between the lines: SF City Attorney David Chiu backs San Francisco following New York City's lead, he said in a statement to Axios.

  • A nonprofit in Manhattan has operated two safe consumption sites on private property, without city staff or direct city funding since last November, and "the Department of Justice has not taken action," to close them, per Chiu.

What to watch: The full Board of Supervisors will consider the proposed legislation in early January.

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