California governor vetoes supervised drug injection sites

For years, the idea of ​​establishing supervised drug injection sites has been a longtime goal for some progressive California leaders seeking to address the burgeoning overdose crisis. But that goal remains elusive as Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would create such sites in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.

Senate Bill 57 would have authorized these pilot overdose prevention programs until January 1, 2028.

“I have long supported the cutting edge of harm reduction strategies. However, I am extremely concerned about the operations of safe injection sites without strong and committed local leadership and well-researched, vetted and thoughtful operational and sustainability plans,” Newsom said in his veto message on Monday, noting his concern. for unintended consequences.

“The worsening drug use problems in these areas is not a risk we can take,” he wrote.

Governor Jerry Brown also rejected similar legislation in 2018but supporters of the bill hoped Newsom would sign this one after saying it was open at the idea during his campaign for governor.

The goal of these programs, proponents said, is to provide drug addicts with a safe and hygienic space where they can obtain clean needles and administer their own medications under the supervision of trained personnel. Staff members would monitor users and be ready to administer overdose reversal medication if needed, which could ultimately save lives. Medical groups supporting these programs have pointed out that injection sites could also help reduce the risk of hepatitis C and HIV infection associated with intravenous drug use.

“The worsening drug use problems in these areas is not a risk we can take.”


Senator Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who drafted the bill, called Newsom’s veto tragic.

“By rejecting a proven and widely studied strategy to save lives and get people into treatment, this veto sends a powerful negative message that California is not committed to reducing risk,” Wiener said in a statement. .

“For eight years, a broad coalition has worked to pass this life-saving legislation. Every year this legislation is delayed, more people die of drug overdoses, he added.

The bill’s sponsors called Newsom’s decision a political move by a blue state governor whose recent actions have fueled speculation that he may be planning a presidential bid.

“We are outraged and frustrated by Governor Newsom’s political decision to veto SB 57,” Tyler TerMeer, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said in a statement. “Governor Newsom is turning his back on his constituents and the overdose crisis that affects every corner of our state and our nation. We lose our friends, family members and loved ones. We need our leaders in government to step up and implement solutions that will save lives. »

Part of Newsom’s reasoning behind the veto seemed to be his concern for the “unlimited number” of sites that could have appeared as a result of the bill. Proponents of the bill rejected this argument.

“While Newsom is playing on fears that an ‘unlimited’ number of overdose prevention programs may have been opened, this would be a limited pilot program that lasted only five years and three jurisdictions, with a extremely thorough evaluation process,” said Jeannette. Zanipatin, state director at the Drug Policy Alliance, another sponsor of the bill.

The bill came with no dollars attached, meaning each county or city interested in setting up a site would have to find its own source of funding to operate the sites. Each site could cost a few million dollars a year to operate.

San Francisco has been considering the idea for nearly a decade, and had the bill passed, it likely would have been the first ready to launch a program in early 2023, Zanipatin said.

Last year, New York City became the first to establish supervised injection sites in the United States. Cities in other countries have been operating such centers for years, including Vancouver, Mexicans and Barcelona. The Vancouver site is often cited as a model — with about 1,700 people using it each month, the center is credited with reduce overdose deaths in his neighborhood and his city. Switzerland was the first country to open a supervised injection site in 1986.

Following Newsom’s veto, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu told the San Francisco Chronicle that he supported to move forward with plans for a safe injection site independent of state support, as New York City had done. But a state law could have granted greater legal and policy coverage to the community organization that ran the site, Zanipatin said.

Among those who urged the governor to veto the bill was the Senate Republican caucus. “Feeding the drug epidemic with drug dens and needle supplies is like pouring gasoline on a wildfire. It only makes the problem worse,” the caucus wrote. in an August 1 letter to Newsom.

Law enforcement agencies also declared their opposition to the bill, saying it sends the wrong message to the public and fails to address the root of addiction.

Following Newsom’s veto, Senate Republicans issued a statement taking credit for “obtaining” a veto. “People struggling with addiction need help, not a legal place to shoot,” said Sen. Scott Wilk, a Republican from Lancaster.

The overdose crisis has become one of the most pressing public health issues, with deaths and emergency room visits increasing in recent years, largely due to the seepage of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl overdose deaths rose from 1,603 in 2019 to 3,946 in 2020 and then to 5,722 in 2021, according to the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard.

California’s second blow to this policy came as Biden administration embraces ‘harm reduction’ strategies – that aim to keep drug users alive and safe rather than punishing them. Needle exchange programs and programs that distribute the overdose drug naloxone are some examples.

Wiener and the bill’s supporters said supervised injection sites would not have solved the overdose crisis. The objective was rather to avoid deaths.

“Feeding the drug epidemic with drug dens and needle supplies is like pouring gasoline on a wildfire.


Opponents had also raised concerns that the bill did not provide a “known strategy for determining how to get the addict to the injection site”, said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, at a hearing earlier this month. “What injection sites do is there is a magnet effect for people to enter the area,” but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually go inside the area. establishment, he said.

Laura Thomas, director of HIV policy and harm reduction at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said she doesn’t think getting people into these centers would have been a challenge. “The overwhelming majority of people would prefer to use in a clean space. Nobody wants to use drugs on the sidewalk. If we give people a better option, they will use it,” she said.

An oft-referenced survey of 602 injection drug users in San Francisco showed that 85% would use a supervised injection site. About 75% of them said they would use it at least three days a week.

The idea, according to proponents, is to build trust with people who come, encouraging them to spread the word and eventually refer people to treatment when they are ready.

Cal Matters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media company explaining California policies and politics.

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