Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Matt Haney Announce Legislation to Authorize New Overdose Prevention Programs
Legislation would allow nonprofit groups to operate overdose prevention programs in San Francisco
San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisor Matt Haney today announced they will introduce legislation to authorize Overdose Prevention Programs in San Francisco. The ordinance will establish a process for nonprofit organizations to seek permits from the Department of Public Health (DPH) to operate sites where people who use drugs can do so safely and indoors, receive medical treatment and referrals, and be connected to services to address their addiction when ready. This program is part of Mayor Breed’s broader efforts to improve behavioral health services and reduce drug overdoses in San Francisco.
“Safe consumption sites save lives,” said Mayor Breed. “They help prevent overdoses, reduce public drug use, prevent the spread of disease, and connect people to medical care that can help treat their addiction. We need one or more of these sites in our city, and this legislation creates a path for nonprofit providers to apply to operate one of these life-saving facilities.”
“Drug overdose deaths are the most deadly epidemic facing our city. Overdose prevention sites save lives, get people into treatment, and reduce drug use on our streets. Overdose deaths increased dramatically from 259 in 2018 to 330 overdose deaths in 2019. That increase is absolutely devastating and could have been prevented if overdose prevention programs were opened,” said Supervisor Haney. “What we are proposing is not a radical new idea. 100 overdose prevention sites now operate in over 65 cities around the world. No site has experienced an overdose death and many have transitioned thousands of people into treatment and detox services. It’s long past time for San Francisco to urgently implement this proven tool, as part of a broader multi-pronged, comprehensive strategy, to stop overdoses and save lives.”
Mayor Breed and Supervisor Haney will introduce the legislation at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 3rd. The legislation would establish standards for operation of an Overdose Prevention Program and create permitting and regulatory processes managed by DPH. Permits issued under the ordinance will become operative once the State enacts a law authorizing San Francisco to approve Overdose Prevention Program operators. The State Legislature is expected to consider a bill this year, Assembly Bill 362, which would provide this authorization.
Overdose Prevention Programs are controlled health care settings where people can more safely use drugs under clinical supervision and receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment. The Safer Inside Community Partnership, a community-driven health alliance in the Tenderloin neighborhood, was actively involved in creating the legislation.
According to the most recent estimate, 24,500 people inject drugs in San Francisco. Many of these individuals do not have access to safe or private environments in which to consume drugs, often leading to open usage in public spaces. People using drugs in public spaces are more likely to rush, thereby making them more vulnerable to overdose and other complications of drug use. While people who use drugs, their friends, and first responders have reversed thousands of opioid overdoses with naloxone in recent years, overdose deaths have climbed in San Francisco since the arrival of fentanyl. In addition, injecting in public locations creates public health and safety risks as the presence of needle litter and the potential for needle stick injuries increases.
“Safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Health. “Research shows that the presence of these sites and services does not increase drug injecting, drug trafficking or crime. We need to continue to create more places where people who use drugs can find support and be connected to services like primary medical care and housing.”
“More than 100 evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies indicate that safe consumption sites increase safety for people who inject drugs and reduce the frequency of overdoses,” said Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, Director of Mental Health Reform. “The concerns about moving forward with this life-preserving, harm reduction resource are more ideological than empirical.”
“Overdose Prevention Programs save lives and treat people who use drugs with dignity and respect. San Francisco AIDS Foundation applauds this effort to prepare for a site in San Francisco,” said Laura Thomas, director of harm reduction policy at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “Overdose is a monumental concern in our community. Overdose Prevention Programs offer a path forward and an intervention that will also reduce HIV transmission and save taxpayers money. It’s time to take these steps.”
On Tuesday, February 25, the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia ruled in favor of a nonprofit organization in a suit brought by the federal government seeking to block the opening of the first safe injection site in the country. The court found that the nonprofit’s proposed facility would not violate a provision of the federal Controlled Substances Act. While the Court’s ruling does not apply directly to California, the legislation Mayor Breed and Supervisor Haney will introduce is consistent with this federal court ruling.