California passes law creating safe injection sites for drug users

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he is open to signing such a law.

Updated: August 3, 2022 - 3:02am

California could soon allow sanctioned drug consumption sites in certain cities under a proposal headed for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

The bill, Senate Bill 57, would allow Oakland and the cities and counties of both San Francisco and Los Angeles to operate overdose prevention programs, which would include a “hygienic space supervised by trained staff” where people can use drugs and obtain “sterile consumption supplies.” City and county officials must hold a public meeting before approving an overdose prevention program.

The state Senate sent the bill to Newsom’s desk in a 21-11 vote on Monday.

Supporters of the bill see the measure as a way to address California’s overdose death crisis. In 2021, California recorded over 6,800 opioid-related overdose deaths, which translates to a crude mortality rate of 17.8 per 100,000 residents – an increase of 109% from 2019, according to the state’s overdose surveillance dashboard.

The bill’s author, Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said in a statement that the legislation is not about whether or not the state wants people to use drugs, but “it’s an acknowledgement that people are using drugs, and our choice is whether we want to make every effort to help them survive and get healthy.”

“California — like our nation as a whole — is experiencing a dramatic and preventable increase in overdose deaths, and we need every available tool to help people stay alive and get healthy,” Wiener said. “Safe consumption sites are a proven model to help people avoid overdose deaths, reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission, reduce syringe litter and help people access treatment.”

The Senate’s vote to send the bill to Newsom was met with swift opposition from the Senate Republican caucus, who sent a letter to the governor urging him to veto the bill.

“Fueling the drug epidemic with drug dens and needle supplies is like pouring gasoline on a forest fire. It merely worsens the problem,” the letter states.

Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, called the bill “one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation” he’s seen sent to the governor.

“Leaving people on the streets in squalor, rather than getting them help, shows zero compassion,” Wilk said.

Newsom has in the past expressed interest in safe consumption sites for drug use. When campaigning for governor in 2018, Newsom said he was “very, very open” to allowing a safe consumption site pilot program in San Francisco – splitting from then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed similar proposed legislation, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

If the bill is signed into law, California will join several other regions in the country that have launched safe consumption sites. Rhode Island was the first state in the nation to enact a statewide measure authorizing injection sites under a bill signed in July 2021. New York City became the first to operate a supervised drug injection site, opening two sites in Manhattan in November 2021.