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California Governor Vetoes Bill Authorizing Safe Injection Sites

On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 57. This bill would have allowed for a small number of safe injection locations. It was a setback to harm reduction advocates who are trying to reduce the overdose deaths in California and across the country. Newsom vetoed the measure, Senate Bill 57, saying that the overdose prevention programs authorized by the bill could lead to a “world of unintended consequences.”

SB 57 would allow four local governments to establish overdose prevention programs. These are also called safe consumption sites (or safe injection sites), and will be a pilot program for five years. Los Angeles County would receive approval for overdose prevention centres. The legislation also applies to the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. The California State Assembly passed the bill on June 30 while the State Senate approved it on August 1.

“Every overdose death is preventable,” Wiener said after the legislation was passed by the state Assembly. “We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. We are currently allowing people to die in our streets because of an unwritten legal ban that must be lifted. SB 57 is long overdue, and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

These safe injection locations allow individuals to use or inject drugs while being monitored by trained medical professionals. They can also be used as emergency rooms in cases of drug overdoses or other serious situations. Other services offered by overdose prevention centers include referrals for drug treatment, housing assistance and HIV prevention services. Since years, overdose prevention centers in Canada and Switzerland have worked well with people from at least ten countries.

New York City officials announced late last year that they had established the nation’s first overdose prevention center. Since then, research published by the American Medical Association found that New York’s safe consumption drug sites have decreased overdose risk, encouraged people not to use illicit drugs in public, and provided ancillary health services to people who use illicit substances.

Veto Cites Possible ‘Unintended Consequences’

California’s governor was uninfluenced by the success of safe injection sites. While expressing support for harm reduction measures, he said that they need “well-documented, vetted, and thoughtful operational and sustainability plans.” Newsom also acknowledged that overdose prevention programs could be beneficial, but vetoed SB-57 on Monday, citing potential “unintended consequences” of the legislation.

“It is possible that these sites would help improve the safety and health of our urban areas, but if done without a strong plan, they could work against this purpose,” the governor wrote in his veto message. “These unintended consequences in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland cannot be taken lightly. Worsening drug consumption challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take.”

Instead of approving the legislation, Newsom said that he would direct the secretary of the California Department of Health and Human Services “to convene city and county officials to discuss minimum standards and best practices for safe and sustainable overdose prevention programs.”

“I remain open to this discussion when those local officials come back to the Legislature with recommendations for a truly limited pilot program — with comprehensive plans for siting, operations, community partnerships, and fiscal sustainability that demonstrate how these programs will be run safely and effectively,” Newsom wrote.

Supporters are Disappointed by Veto

After Newsom’s veto of the safe injection site bill was announced, Wiener said in a statement that it does not take more research to come to the conclusion that overdose prevention centers save lives.

“Today’s veto is tragic,” said Wiener. “While this veto is a major setback for the effort to save lives and connect people to treatment, we must not — and will not — let it end this movement. We’ll continue to fight for an end to the War on Drugs and a focus on drug use and addiction as the health issues that they are.”

The bill was supported by a coalition of drug treatment professionals, civil rights groups, healthcare providers, and policy reform advocates. They said that the bill would help save lives and provide opportunities to address substance abuse. Jeannette Zanipatin, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, criticized Newsom’s reasoning for the veto, noting that local officials in the jurisdictions slated for the safe consumption sites had already signed onto the legislation.

“We are incredibly disappointed and heartbroken that Governor Newsom has put his own political ambitions ahead of saving thousands of lives and vetoed this critical legislation. Despite the Governor’s remarks, LA, San Francisco and Oakland have already designated this a priority by authorizing the programs locally and have been standing ready to implement them quickly,” Zanipatin said in a statement from the group. “We have already engaged local stakeholders in a robust process and they have taken active steps towards implementation in order to be part of the pilot SB 57 would have put in place. We don’t need additional processes. Action is all that’s needed. Without action, people are going to die.”

Shane Pennington (counsel at Vicente Sederberg LLP), is disappointed as well.

“Gov. Newsom’s decision to veto this bill is very disappointing,” Pennington wrote in an email to Chronic News. “Research proves that safe consumption sites save lives, plain and simple. I hope the Governor’s call for local leadership to develop thoughtful operational and sustainable plans for the sites bears fruit.”