SAN FRANCISCO -- The debate over so-called safe injection sites in California has come to a crucial turning point with Senate Bill 57 landing on Governor Gavin Newsom's desk and awaiting his signature or veto.
San Francisco State Senator Scott Weiner authored the bill and argues that safe-injection sites save lives. But a coalition of people all over the state of California believe that while the sites are well-intentioned, they are nothing more than state-sanctioned drug dens that do nothing for addicts needing recovery services.
KPIX 5 participated in a Zoom news conference Friday where treatment advocates sounded off against the bill, calling on Newsom to veto Weiner's bill.
"The problem using these places is that only five percent of addicts use them," said John Lovell with the California Narcotic Officers Association. "But the facilities themselves have a magnet effect, so the population of people caught in addiction goes up outside the facilities, and those people are all out in the neighborhoods adjacent to the facility."
Meanwhile, proponents of safe-injection sites like Vitka Eisen say such facilities keep people alive long enough to make the hoped-for choice to explore rehabilitation opportunities. Eisen is the President and Chief Executive Officer of HealthRIGHT 360, a healthcare provider for very low-income and otherwise marginalized California residents.
Eisen took KPIX to San Francisco treatment center the Walden House to tell her own personal story of being a 25-year-old heroin user. She says addicts come to safe-injection sites to not only get supervised use, but also medical and intervention services.
When KPIX asked why she is unapologetic about the bill she hopes Newsom will not veto, Eisen replied, "We must reach out and maintain connections. Even if it means a safe space to inject. Even if it means giving them safe space to use drugs. I'm unapologetic about that because I don't want people to die."
There is no question that people are dying from drug use. A CBS report cited 700 San Franciscans died from drug overdoses in 2020. Los Angeles County reported 1,000 drug overdose deaths in the same time period. Nationally, overdose deaths exceeded 1000,000 in a one-year period.
Eisen told KPIX that even saving one person through supervised use -- tied to treatment -- is worth the effort.
"I get calls from families all the time my brother has been using meth can you help me someone loves them," said Eisen. "You may not know their names or story, but that person is someone's child someone's sibling someone's beloved parent."
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