Credit: Associated Press
Rather than jailing opioid users, a proposal running through California lawmakers would give them a place to inject drugs while trained staff watch them to make sure they don’t die from one. accidental overdose.
The Senate passed by just one vote on Thursday a bill that would allow programs in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles County. But the bill still needs to be passed by the state assembly before it can go to Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who would decide whether to sign it into law.
Controlled injection sites have emerged around the world in recent years as part of a movement to rethink the treatment of people addicted to powerful opioids – including heroin, fentanyl and some prescription painkillers.
People get very sick when they try to stop taking the drugs, making it difficult to stop. The number of overdose deaths has risen nationwide in recent years, sparking debates in the state legislature on how best to address a problem rooted in public health and safety.
These sites are legal in Canada, but illegal in the US. The former Trump administration sued to block a proposed injection site in Philadelphia, and a federal appeals court sided with the government in January. But supporters are appealing that decision, hoping the government of new president Joe Biden can drop the lawsuit.
“Unlike the Trump administration, President Biden takes a science-based approach to addiction,” said Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat who drafted California law. “We hope the government will enable states to test evidence-based strategies, such as safe consumption sites.”
In California, 45% of drug overdose deaths in 2018 were opioids, resulting in more than 2,400 deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
About half of the deaths were prescription painkillers. But the biggest increase in deaths is due to heroin overdoses, which more than doubled between 2012 and 2018. The number of deaths from overdose with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has increased by more than 800% over the same period.
“Forcing people to use drugs on our streets doesn’t make anyone safer,” Wiener said. “Instead, let’s take a public health approach to drug use, with trained professionals who can provide clean supplies, overdose prevention medications, and access to drug treatment programs.”
All Republicans in the Senate voted against the bill, along with two Democrats. The Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement that the bill “would lead to the creation of taxpayer-manned and funded drug caves.”
“This is like giving a person struggling with alcoholism a gift certificate to BevMo,” said Republican Senate leader Scott Wilk. “There is no consideration whatsoever for the neighborhoods in which these sites will operate, the victims of addicted crimes roaming the streets, or the families of individuals struggling with addiction praying that their loved one will receive treatment instead of drugs. “
The idea behind so-called “safe injection sites” is to prevent accidental overdose deaths by monitoring people while they are on the drugs. Under the California bill, workers at the centers should try to help these people by getting them into drug treatment programs or referring them to mental health, social services, and primary medical care.
California lawmakers passed a bill in 2018 to allow San Francisco to offer injection sites, but former Democratic administration Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, saying that “enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work.”
With Brown absent, supporters are trying again this year – hoping Newsom will be more receptive.
By passing the bill, “the Senate has made it abundantly clear that they want to do whatever it takes to save lives,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group advocating changes in drug policy.
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.