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What You Can Personally Do to Fight the Injection-Drug Epidemic

Four ways that regular citizens can help people struggling to overcome their dependence.

Street outreach workers from Glide. 


This story is part of our special report on the private tragedies and public toll of our injection drug epidemic. Read more of One City, Under the Syringe here.


Here are four ways regular citizens can fight the injection drug epidemic—and help people struggling to overcome their dependence.

Every caregiver who works in this field knows that simply making respectful, nonjudgmental human contact is an essential (and deeply fulfilling) part of their work. By volunteering at a syringe access program, you will help people who inject drugs avoid contracting HIV and hepatitis C as well as prevent other health problems. But just as important, you will have the chance to meet and get to know them, and show them that someone cares about them.

There are a number of respected nonprofit organizations in San Francisco that provide sterile syringes, pick up and receive used needles, and offer education and referrals to injection drug users. (Donations of money and/or goods are welcome too.) Among them are:

San Francisco AIDS Foundation
SFAF’s syringe access program handed out 2.7 million needles last year, and it offers a full spectrum of harm reduction services as well. Its nitty-gritty, highstreet- cred 6th Street Harm Reduction Center made contact with 47,000 people who inject drugs (this figure includes multiple contacts) last year. 

Every Tuesday afternoon, volunteers 18 and older convene at Glide to assemble harm reduction kits. Glide also trains syringe access volunteers for its onsite syringe access program. 

Homeless Youth Alliance
Homeless Youth Alliance offers syringe access and other programs for youth and women in the Haight and the Mission. Contact Toivo Ollila (toivo@homelessyouthalliance. org) to learn about volunteer opportunities or to make donations. 

Through a partnership between the SF LGBT Center and the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center, Trans:Thrive’s needle exchange program creates a safe space for trans-identifying people to access sterile syringes and other services. 

Last year 877 overdoses were reversed in San Francisco by naloxone (better known by a trade name, Narcan), an opioid-overdose-reversal drug. You can receive free training in how to administer naloxone Monday through Friday at the CBHS Pharmacy at 1380 Howard Street. No appointment or prescription is required, and it takes only a few minutes to learn.

There are several residential programs in the city that specialize in helping people with substance use disorders. They include:

Positive Resource Center (Baker Places)
Since 1964, the nonprofit Baker Places has offered a variety of services including two residential rehabilitation programs that focus on people with HIV/AIDS and gay or bisexual men. To donate, email Gayle Roberts at, or volunteer with Positive Resource Center. 

Delancey Street Foundation
This nationally regarded model for rehabilitating substance users is run entirely by its residents, who stay in the program for two to four years. During their tenure, they learn marketable skills and receive a GED while living together substance-free. Volunteers are trained to lead workshops for residents. 

Cultural competency can be a valuable asset in helping at-risk people. The Mission Council on Alcohol Abuse for the Spanish Speaking provides outpatient bilingual counseling services for individuals and families struggling with unhealthy drug or alcohol use. If you’re a bilingual speaker, call 415-826-6767 for volunteer opportunities.  


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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