San Francisco, California

Will “Safe” Injection Sites Help in Addressing the California Drug Problem?

In recent news, the mayor of San Francisco, California, Mrs. London Breed, has attempted to implement the use of safe injection sites, a controversial resolution method that is still considered very unpopular and illegal in the United States. Safe injection sites fall under the category of “harm reduction,” a category and approach to addiction treatment that carries with it controversy, mixed messages, and uncertain outcomes. Ultimately it is an approach that neither Narconon or it's staff can support.

First of All, What is Harm Reduction?

Before we get into safe injection sites, let’s define harm reduction. Harm reduction is very simply the effort of reducing the harm that is brought on with a particular thing. Harm reduction approaches cover any approach or method of addressing the drug or alcohol problem that has to do with reducing the harm involved with the use of drugs or alcohol. Harm reduction takes the stance that drug and alcohol use is going to happen whether we like it or not, so we might as well accept that fact and try to reduce the harm that is brought on with drug use.

Safe injection sites are designed to reduce the harm connected with IV drug use.IV drug use, by itself, is very dangerous, as one can imagine. It poses a risk of overdose and death, as well as communicable diseases. In addition, addicts never really know what is in the drug powders and crystalized rocks that they get from their dealers. IV drug use creates a risk for the transmission of blood borne-illnesses and infections when users share needles. And since a strong percentage of IV drug users do share needles, the transmission of such illnesses is very common in this group.

injection site
Injection Site.  (Photo by Ronald Rampsch/

A safe injection site is a clinic, a medical facility of sorts, where IV drug users can come and shoot up their drug substances, all under the medical supervision of trained physicians and nurses. At such a site, addicts will be given clean needles, fresh needles that have not been exposed to other addicts’ blood. Furthermore, addicts will be able to shoot up in a supervised setting, and any overdoses that might occur are rapidly responded to by medical staff.

Safe injection sites do, in fact, reduce the harm from IV drug use. However, they also perpetuate the use of a mind-altering substance. They do little to reduce crime and offer no assistance in getting off of the drugs. There is little research to show that overdose rates are lowered. The only benefit currently know is a slight reduction in transmission of HIV and other diseases.

One City Moves Towards Safe Injection Sites

In spite of relatively strong opposition against safe injection sites, the movement to utilize these methods and other harm reduction techniques in addressing the addiction epidemic has been growing. There are already over sixty safe injection sites in different parts of the world, yet none currently exist in the United States.

The mayor of San Francisco, California, Mrs. London Breed, said that “We're not going to give up, but at the same time, what's most important is there are other people who are involved. I want to make sure I'm not putting other folks at risk if I do this. People want me to get needles off the streets. They don't want to see people shooting up in public. They don't want people dying.”

“Enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work...”
California Governor, Jerry Brown
California Governor, Jerry Brown
(Photo by Dan Holm


California Governor, Jerry Brown, opposes the mayor’s desire to implement safe injection sites into San Francisco. He said, “Enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work.”

What’s the Verdict on Safe Injection Sites?

At the end of the day, we simply cannot move in the direction of implementing safe injection sites across America. The use of safe injection sites is ultimately a surrender, an admission of defeat that we lost and there is simply no chance that we will ever be able to reverse the growing trend of addiction with addiction treatment alone.

We cannot take this route.

Becoming a nation of safe injection sites and other harm reduction techniques will only allow for more drug use, for continued drug use at the sites themselves, for accepted drug use within communities, and for a growth in drug use statistics nationwide. Drug abuse is a terrible thing to struggle with, so all of our efforts should instead be focused on getting people off of drugs and alcohol, as opposed to trying to help people use drugs “safely.”

We must continue to help addicts get off of drugs and alcohol. The life of an IV drug user is a miserable one. Even with safe injection sites, there is no guarantee whatsoever that such addicts will live for much longer. Though IV overdose fatality statistics might be reduced when addicts use safe injection sites, there are many other factors to being a drug addict that can be lethal.

Our focus going forward must be one of helping addicts to get off of drugs and alcohol. That should be the focus in San Francisco, and it should be the focus all across America too. We can beat this thing, but we all need to work at it together to do so.

Included in our sources citation section are reference articles that our readers may find interesting. There are a lot of opinions about safe injection sites, all of which should be considered when we are trying to determine the best way to help addicts get better.


Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.