California Legislators Approve Safe Consumption Site Permitting Bill
California’s Senate took new steps this week to control the precipitous rise in drug overdose deaths by passing legislation approving safe locations of use across the state. The measure, Senate Bill 57 by Democratic Senator Scott Wiener, passed the Senate Monday after receiving approval from California’s State Assembly a month earlier. The bill now goes to the desk of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for consideration.
“Every overdose death is preventable,” Wiener said after the law was passed by the state assembly on June 30. “We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy and reduce the harm to people who use drugs. Right now we are letting people die on our streets for no other reason than an arbitrary legal ban that we need to lift. SB 57 is long overdue and will have a major impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
SB-57 authorizes four local jurisdictions to conduct overdose prevention programs, also known as safe places of use or safe places of injection, as a five-year pilot program. The legislation provides for permitting such facilities in Los Angeles County and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. A statement from Wiener’s office said city councils, or boards of directors, in all four jurisdictions have applied to be included in the legislation.
Overdose centers save lives
Safe injection sites provide places where people can inject or otherwise consume drugs under the supervision of trained healthcare professionals who can intervene in the event of an overdose or other medical emergency. The facilities also provide other services, including drug treatment referrals, housing assistance, and HIV prevention services. Safe injection sites have been successfully operated in Switzerland, Canada and eight other countries for years with no overdose deaths in people using the facilities.
The law, passed this week, also provides protections for professionals working at the approved safe injection sites, freeing them from professional discipline, civil liability and existing criminal penalties for good faith conduct and actions taken under the overdose prevention program. The Medical Board of California and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California would still have the authority to take disciplinary action against licensed medical professionals under the bill.
Wiener’s bill passed as California and the nation continue to suffer the effects of an epidemic of overdose deaths, fueled in large part by the opioid crisis and the introduction of fentanyl into the illicit drug supply. In May, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 107,000 people died from drug overdoses last year, setting a grisly new record for drug-related deaths in the country. And in California, overdose deaths increased 83% from 2017 to 2020, according to CDC data.
Safe injection sites opened in NYC last year
Late last year, citizen officials in New York City announced that the city had opened its first publicly recognized overdose prevention centers. Since then, research published by the American Medical Association has found that New York City’s safe drug use venues reduce the risk of overdose, have encouraged people not to use illicit drugs in public, and have provided supplemental health services for people who do not use illicit drugs consume substances. As at other safe injection sites around the world, no overdose deaths have occurred at New York’s facilities, prompting city leaders to call for statewide support for overdose prevention centers from the Biden administration.
However, opening safe injection sites has been a challenge in many communities because federal laws prohibit providing a place for illicit drug use. Shane Pennington, an attorney with the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, said action to approve safe consumption sites across the country is needed at the federal level.
“The Biden administration has promised to bring harm reduction strategies into the fight against the US overdose epidemic. Safe consumption sites is one such strategy, proving mountains of evidence save lives,” Pennington wrote in an email to High Times. “The fact that the federal government is inexplicably dragging its feet in implementing this strategy should not prompt states to do the same. Safe places of consumption save lives. I hope the governor will sign California into law and other states will enact similar life-saving measures as soon as possible.”