SACRAMENTO – Legislation that legalizes overdose prevention programs, also known as safe consumption sites or safe injection sites, passed the Senate by a vote of 21-11 earlier this week.
Senate Bill 57, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), now heads to the Assembly. This legislation will authorize pilot prevention programs in San Francisco, Oakland, and the County of Los Angeles.
Each of the pilot jurisdictions has requested to be included in the legislation, and each will decide locally whether to participate and to what extent. SB 57 simply removes the state prohibition that currently makes such programs illegal.
COVID-19 has increased the urgency to legalize overdose prevention programs, given that overdoses and substance use overall are rising significantly.
For example, San Francisco saw a record number of overdose deaths in 2020, with 699 deaths total. Nationally, 87,000 people died of drug overdoses from October 2019 to September 2020. This is a public health crisis, and it is preventable.
Overdose prevention programs — which have been in existence for years in Europe, Canada, and Australia, with proven success — are supervised facilities where those using drugs intravenously or otherwise can do so more safely, with the goal of transitioning them into recovery programs.
SB 57 allows the City and County of San Francisco, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Oakland the discretion to establish and run these programs, where adults may use their own controlled substances under the supervision of staff trained to prevent and treat overdose, prevent HIV and hepatitis infection, and facilitate entry into drug treatment and other services. SB 57 is a pilot program that will run for five years, through January 1, 2027.
San Francisco has repeatedly requested this authorization. Oakland’s Mayor and City Council requested last year to be included. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support SB 57 and to ask that Los Angeles County be included in the pilot.
Trained professionals provide those who visit overdose prevention programs with clean needles, have supplies such as Narcan on hand to help in the case of an overdose, and may have testing strips for fentanyl and other potentially lethal drug additives.
Studies show that these programs prevent overdose deaths and help those struggling with substance use disorder get connected to treatment and other services.
Additionally, overdose prevention programs are an important harm reduction measure that help limit the spread of communicable diseases, like HIV and Hepatitis C, through intravenous drug use. They also reduce crime and syringe litter in the surrounding area and give those who use drugs the ability to avoid using in public spaces.
Overdose prevention programs also relieve pressure on hospital emergency rooms.
This legislation has been introduced multiple times, and it passed the legislature in 2018 in a previous form. It was vetoed in 2018 by then-Governor Jerry Brown. The legalization of overdose prevention programs has broad support from the leadership of San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles County, as well as public health and addiction treatment leaders.
The following organizations are co-sponsoring SB 57: Drug Policy Alliance, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, California Society of Addiction Medicine, National Harm Reduction Coalition, Healthright 360, Tarzana Treatment Center, and the California Association of Alcohol & Drug Program Executives.
“Overdoses are a national health crisis, and we’re seeing the impacts of this crisis all across California,” said Wiener. “We need a new approach to mental health and substance use – one that helps prevent overdoses, addresses the root causes of substance use, and facilitates treatment and support. Forcing people to use drugs on our streets doesn’t make anyone safer and only causes problems for people who are using drugs and for surrounding neighborhoods.
“Let’s, instead, take a public health approach to drug use, with trained professionals who can provide clean supplies, overdose prevention medication, and access to drug treatment programs. Overdose Prevention Programs are a common-sense solution whose times has come,” he said.
“The San Francisco AIDS Foundation is eager to move forward with opening overdose prevention services and today’s vote by the state Senate puts us one step closer,” said Laura Thomas, Director of Harm Reduction Policy at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “Last year in San Francisco, more people died of drug overdose than of COVID. We urgently need these services to end overdose deaths here in San Francisco. Thank you to Senator Wiener for his leadership on this issue and we look forward to getting this essential legislation passed and signed this year.”
“There is an overdose crisis in California that demands urgent action,” said Jeannette Zanipatin of Drug Policy Alliance. “Drug treatment and public health leaders in the state have been calling for authorization of programs that takes drug use off the streets into safer settings that protect human life, promote public safety, and help people get the drug treatment, housing and healthcare that they need.”