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California Lawmakers Approve Bill Authorizing Safe Consumption Sites

California’s Senate has taken new steps to combat the dramatic rise in overdose deaths. This week, it passed legislation that allows safe consumption in California. After receiving approval from the California State Assembly one month prior, Senate Bill 56, a Democratic senator Scott Wiener measure was approved by the Senate. Now, the bill is headed to Gavin Newsom’s desk for consideration.

“Every overdose death is preventable,” Wiener said after the legislation was passed by the state Assembly on June 30. “We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. For no other reason than an arbitrarily placed legal restriction that needs to be removed, people are being killed on the streets. SB 57 is long overdue, and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

SB-57 gives four local governments the authority to establish overdose prevention programs. These are also called safe consumption sites (or safe injection sites) and can be operated as pilot programs for five years. This legislation authorizes such facilities to be built in Los Angeles County, as well as the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. A statement from Wiener’s office noted that the city councils or board of supervisors in all four jurisdictions had requested to be included in the legislation.

Overdose Prevention Centers Save Lives

The safe injection site allows people to use or inject drugs while being monitored by trained medical professionals. They can also intervene in cases of drug overdoses or any other emergency. Other services offered by these facilities include referrals for drug treatment, housing assistance and HIV prevention services. Since years, the safe injection centers have worked well in Canada, Switzerland, and eight additional countries. No overdose deaths were recorded among users.

This week’s legislation also provides protections to professionals working at safe injection sites. They are exempted from civil liability and professional discipline. Under the bill, the Medical Board of California (Osteopathic Medical Board of California) would be able to discipline licensed doctors.

Wiener’s bill was passed as California and the nation continue to suffer the effects of an epidemic of overdose deaths, largely fueled by the opioid crisis and the introduction of fentanyl into the illicit drug supply. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 107,000 drug-related deaths were reported in May by the CDC. According to CDC data, California overdose deaths rose by 83% between 2017 and 2020.

New York City Opened Safe Injection Sites Last Year

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. As in other safe injection sites around the world, no overdose deaths have occurred at New York’s facilities, leading city leaders to call for nationwide support for overdose prevention centers from the Biden administration.

However, many communities have struggled to open safe injection facilities due to federal laws which prohibit the provision of a place for illegal drug users. Shane Pennington is an attorney at Vicente Sederberg LLP. He stated that the federal government must take action to authorize safe consumption areas across the nation.

“The Biden administration promised to bring harm-reduction strategies to the fight against the U.S. overdose epidemic. Safe consumption sites are one such strategy that mountains of evidence proves saves lives,” Pennington wrote in an email to Chronic News. “The fact that the Federal government is inexplicably dragging its feet in implementing that strategy should not cause the states to do the same. Secure consumption areas save lives. I hope the Governor signs the California bill into law and other states pass similar life-saving measures as soon as possible.”