SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – City officials in San Francisco kicked off the drive to promote safe injection centers Wednesday with a tour of a mock facility that includes a “chill room” for heroin users to relax in after they shoot up.
But even as the city pushes to get the groundbreaking program off the ground, representatives admitted to a certain risk as far as breaking federal laws if it moves forward with the concept.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed was on-hand to advocate for the program as officials gave a tour of a mock model “safe injection center” at Glide Memorial Church. The space included curtained booths for privacy, kits for injecting, testing people’s drugs and even for needle disposal. All with the City Seal of San Francisco.
“These are the fentanyl strips, because most heroin is mixed with fentanyl and that makes overdosing that much more common,” a staffer explained.
Narcan kits and oxygen are also available in case of overdoses. The facility included what tour guides described as a “chill room” where users can sit after they shoot up.
“I want to reduce the stigma around these sites and show that they can be implemented in a clean, safe and effective way,” said Breed.
For the next couple of days, supporters and interested parties will be able to tour of the site and take away buttons, brochures and even t-shirts that include positive messages to help spread the word about the safe injection site concept.
“You could call it a sales pitch. We see this as an educational opportunity for the community,” said Glide Harm Reduction Manager Paul Harkin.
The injection site is modeled after a similar program in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada. That site has been operating for more than 10 years.
“We know that everyone can’t be going up to Vancouver to see what they’re doing, so we thought we would bring Vancouver to them,” said Harkin.
But San Francisco isn’t Vancouver, a point Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made clear Tuesday in the New York Times op-ed piece.
The piece said that “it is a federal felony to maintain any location for the purpose of facilitating illegal drug use. Violations are punishable by to 20 years in prison, hefty fines and foreclosure of the property used in the criminal activity.”
“It is a risk,” admitted Harkin.
Mayor Breed said she felt confident San Francisco would find like-minded supporters.
“There is strength in numbers, and we are talking to other cities who want to consider this as an option,” she said.
When KPIX 5 pointed out that Rosenstein was actually talking about jail time, Breed replied, “I understand that, and that is something that we are definitely going to have to deal with.”
The California state legislature on Monday passed Assembly Bill 186, which would give the green light for safe injection sites in San Francisco under a three-year pilot. It remains to be seen whether outgoing Governor Jerry Brown will sign the bill.
So far, officials have not offered any proposed locations for the safe injection program in San Francisco.