Insite, a safe injection facility located in Vancouver, in 2008 Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Both Philadelphia and San Francisco this year officially endorsed setting up what are commonly known as safe-injection sites, to help lower surging numbers of opioid overdose deaths.

In Philly, the comprehensive user engagement site proposal has generated quite a bit of controversy. Elected officials and community leaders have come out both for and against the CUES, with those on each side claiming to represent the best interests of the community.

In San Francisco, there’s less confusion about what citizens want — a clarity that means SF’s sites could open as soon as this summer — in part because there’s been a public opinion poll.

After the Bay Area proposal was announced, San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce released numbers from a survey conducted last year. The data collected reveal some optimism:

Among 500 San Franciscans polled across the city, 67 percent supported the idea of a safe-injection site.

Even more striking, SF Chamber Senior Vice President Jim Lazarus told Billy Penn, is how many people even had an opinion about the topic at all. Per Lazarus, 94 percent of respondents either supported or opposed the idea, with only 6 percent saying they weren’t quite sure. Apparently, in the world of public opinion polling, that’s a surprisingly substantial response.

“The support number is higher than I thought,” Lazarus said, “but the fact that a lot of people had an opinion…is unusual.”

The Chamber of Commerce (which is independent of city government) conducts surveys every year on expected ballot members and “issues of the moment.” This year, the safe-injection site was among the hot topics.

According to Philly Health Dept. comms director James Garrow, Philadelphia has not yet conducted any public opinion research on the proposed CUES.

“We are expecting…to engage very directly with the public through open forums, but that hasn’t been planned yet,” Garrow wrote in an email. “Our research thus far has focused on how feasible and useful such a site might be with advocates and experts in the field.”

So far, community meetings have been abuzz with discussion of the proposed facility. City Councilpersons including Darrell Clark, Cindy Bass and Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, as well as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, have freely voiced their (mostly negative) opinions on the proposed facility. Solomon Jones, a Praise 107.9 radio host, vocally expressed his disapproval of the CUES at a panel he hosted earlier this month in North Philly’s Mt. Tabor AME Church.

Meanwhile, recovery advocates have done what they can to show the potential benefits of a CUES.

Some additional noteworthy data from San Francisco on the subject:

  • Among respondents under 30 years old, 72 percent of people expressed support. (That number drops to 62 percent for people ages 65 and older.)
  • About 60 percent of home-owners — and 73 percent of renters — support a potential safe-injection site.
  • Self-identified progressive respondents expressed 73 percent support for the site, while self-identified conservatives were at about 42 percent.

“San Francisco is a fairly safe place with low rates of violent crime, but there’s clearly been a homelessness problem, a heroin and open, notorious drug use problem…. It’s out of control,” said Lazarus. “There’s significant support.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...