San Francisco Takes Step to Allow Privately-Funded Overdose Prevention Sites to Open

Legislation will address barriers to permitting issues for privately-funded sites
January 18, 2023

San Francisco, CA – Today Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced local steps the City is taking to address a recently identified permitting barrier to moving forward with a non-city funded Overdose Prevention Site.    

As the City has continued to wait for federal guidance around whether it can fund an overdose prevention program with public dollars, conversations with leading non-profits around opening a privately funded site have continued. As part of this process, the City has identified a significant issue to be addressed for a privately funded site to move forward.  

In 2020 the Board of Supervisors approved legislation establishing a permitting structure for city-funded overdose prevention programs. This law as written does not allow for any overdose prevention program to open until federal and state legal issues have been resolved, whether it’s funded by the City or by private resources. Since that law was enacted, non-profits in New York have opened overdose prevention sites without public funding, and various non-profits in San Francisco have expressed interest in doing the same. San Francisco’s current law would not allow them to do so.    

To address this issue, Mayor Breed and Supervisor Ronen are introducing legislation to repeal the 2020 permitting structure for overdose prevention programs. If approved by the Board of Supervisors, this would allow a non-profit to open a site with private funding before federal and state legal issues are resolved.  

“We are committed to opening overdose prevention sites in San Francisco, but due to legal restrictions, there remain significant challenges. Despite that, we are continuing to work with our non-profit partners to find creative ways to open these sites, and these steps are critical for that to happen,” said Mayor London Breed. “Overdose prevention sites can be part of a comprehensive strategy that can save lives and address open-air drug use in our communities. Fentanyl is challenging us like never before, and in addition to opening up these sites, we have to work with law enforcement to close the open-air drug markets and ensure that our neighborhoods feel improvements as we bring these resources to bear.”  

“There are enough barriers to open safe consumption sites as over 150 cities have done around the world without creating additional local obstacles,” said Hillary Ronen, District 9 Supervisor. “I look forward to quickly repealing the 2020 ordinance so we can work with non-profit partners to open Wellness Centers in San Francisco’s hardest hit neighborhoods. I am hopeful that like centers in Rhode Island, San Francisco non-profits will be able to use opioid lawsuit settlement dollars to quickly get these lifesaving centers up and running in the first half of 2023.”  

This legislation will be introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, January 24th. Mayor Breed has asked President Peskin to expedite the ordinance to repeal the permitting law so that non-profits don’t have to wait months for the ordinance to be enacted.  

“The opioid epidemic continues to wreak havoc on our streets and claim the lives of far too many San Franciscans,” said City Attorney David Chiu. “To save lives, I have fully supported a non-profit moving forward with New York City’s model of overdose prevention centers. Repealing this ordinance is one step towards that goal.”  

Accidental overdose deaths in San Francisco decreased in 2022, according to preliminary data, marking the second consecutive year that drug mortality rates dropped in the City despite climbing rates across the country, the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced today. However, those numbers still remain significantly higher than in 2019.   

Preliminary data from the Office of the Medical Chief Examiner, shows that San Francisco recorded 620 drug overdose deaths in the 2022 calendar year, compared to 640 deaths reported in 2021 and 725 in 2020. The 2022 data show a 14 percent decrease from the 2020 number when drug overdose rates were at all-time high in San Francisco, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing presence of the deadly synthetic opioid known as fentanyl.