California: Drug Injection Center Idea Gets an Airing in San Francisco
October 16, 2007
On Thursday, San Francisco's Department of Public Health (DPH) will co-host an all-day symposium examining the idea of supervised injection centers for the city.
At the centers, IV drug users can bring their drugs and inject under the supervision of trained personnel without fear of arrest. The intent is to decrease overdoses, get dirty needles off the streets, and lower the risk of HIV and hepatitis C transmission.
Grant Colfax, DPH's Director of HIV Prevention, said 65 such centers operate in eight countries, including one in Canada that opened in 2003. Data from the Vancouver, British Columbia, center, said Colfax, "seem to show that it is actually a benefit to the community." Indeed, Dr. Thomas Kerr of the University of British Columbia, who has been involved in the center since its inception, said: "We published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed that we had a 33 percent increase in the use of detox facilities from our population."
The Harm Reduction Coalition, a national group that works to combat the adverse effects of drug use, is organizing the symposium. Hilary McQuie, HRC's Western Director, said the goal is to begin a dialogue. "It's a big topic, and we hope to start a conversation," she said.
McQuie said the centers attract a certain type of user, someone who is likely not in the best of health. "They are really for the people [whose lives] are most chaotic," agreed Kerr. "Homeless people with mental problems who are likely to use public spaces to inject."
Asked to comment, a spokesperson for Mayor Gavin Newsom said: "The mayor is not inclined to support this approach, which quite frankly may end up creating more problems than it addresses."
San Francisco Chronicle
10.16.2007; C.W. Nevius