No other city in America has dared to offer safe haven to drug users, to get them off the streets. It's a debate that will get underway this week in San Francisco.
The city is looking at something called "safe sites" that could reduce the harmful effects of drug use. The concept is so controversial that no other city in the United States has implemented the program.
The main sponsor, the San Francisco Public Health Dept., will be holding an all-day symposium Thursday to discuss these so-called safe injection facilities. Twenty-seven cities in eight countries now have these sites. So far, there are none in the United States. [...]
"This city has declared states of emergency repeatedly in order to do the needle exchange and that's been a very successful program," says Grant Coffax with the San Francisco Public Health Department.
Now the city is exploring another, perhaps more controversial approach. It's something called "safe injection facilities." [...]
The facility, called Insite, in in Vancouver, Canada. It's in the city's downtown east side which has one of the highest AIDS and Hepatitis C infection rates in the country.
Demonstration video shows an addict coming to the clinic with heroin he's bought on the streets, then shooting up with a nurse watching. He can then relax in the chill out room where he can talk with case workers if he wants. [...]
Public health official Grant Colfax says the Vancouver model seems to be working.
"There are data that support the approach in terms of reducing overdoses and actually reducing discarded needles around the parameter of these sites," says Colfax.
Vancouver's mayor hopes Insite will also cut crime in the downtown area.
"The street prostitution, the break-and-enters, the car thefts, all of this is related to drug addiction," says Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.
But the Canadian Police Association is skeptical as are those who say facilities like this will encourage rather than cut down on the illegal drug trade.
"We should be helping those with a drug problem, not encourage them to continue," explains Tony Cannavino with the Canadian Police Association.
In San Francisco, police made 101 drug arrests in a 30-day span this summer along the Market Street corridor and in the Tenderloin. [...]
The Health Department says it has taken no position on safe injection facilities. All it wants is a dialogue.
"All we want to do is get input. The department's goal is to get addicts, drug users, into treatment, to get them into treatment to reduce their harm, to get them ultimately to stop using," says Coffax. [...]
If San Francisco, or for that matter, any American city wants to open one, do they need to get an exemption from the federal government? And of course, is it likely the government would ever grant one? Those are just part of many unanswered questions on a very controversial concept.