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New Bill Approved for Supervised Sites for Drug Users in CA

On Thursday, April 22, 2021, a bill passed in the California Senate allowing opioid users to inject drugs in specified and supervised settings. The bill aims to keep opioid users out of jail and to keep them from accidental overdoses. As the opioid crisis worsens and death rates rise, the state of California is looking to make any changes necessary to protect the lives of its citizens. This mindset has made them willing to try different and diverse routes of combating the opioid epidemic and the climbing death rates. The proposal that has passed through the California Legislature advocates for a safe space with trained staff on-site where individuals addicted to opioids can inject drugs and avoid accidental overdoses. These supervised locations will be in the bay area, primarily Oakland and San Francisco, as well as Los Angeles County. The sites would contain clean supplies and have trained professionals available to provide overdose prevention medication and guidance on recovery and the resources open to them to get help.

Opioid Crisis in California

California is one of the states that has taken steps to tackle opioid addiction in a variety of ways. Opioids accounted for 45 percent of drug overdose deaths in California in 2018, resulting in over 2,400 deaths. Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that prescription painkillers caused about half of the deaths. In the past few years, statistics point to the largest increase in deaths due to heroin overdose. The number of heroin overdose deaths more than doubled between 2012 and 2018. Furthermore, fentanyl (a synthetic opioid) use was linked to a massive rise in overdose deaths, nearly 800 percent in the same time period.

With statistics like these, it makes sense why governments around the world are willing to explore alternative approaches to reduce the death toll from opioid painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl. Some countries have already established supervised injection sites, changing people’s perceptions of what the best treatment choice is. The supervised opioid injection sites are already legal in Canada but remain illegal in the US despite the ongoing public safety and public health crisis.

The Debate On Supervised Injection Sites

The supervised site proposal remains controversial, with the California State Senate passing the bill by just one vote. The bill must first pass the State Assembly before being signed into law. Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, will make the final call. While this appears to be a progressive proposal, two Democrats and all of the Republicans in the State Senate voted against it. The Senate Republican Caucus released a statement arguing that supervised injection sites would “establish taxpayer-staffed and funded drug dens.” Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk listed other arguments against supervised sites:

This is like giving a person struggling with alcoholism a gift card to BevMo…There is zero consideration for the neighborhoods in which these sites will operate, the victims of crimes resulting from addicts roaming the streets, or the families of individuals struggling with addiction who are praying their loved one gets treatment rather than drugs.

Supporters of supervised injection sites hope that Governor Newsom signs the bill into law. As the opioid crisis escalated in 2018, the CA Legislature tried to pass a bill that would offer injection sites in San Francisco, but former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, expressing that “enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work.”

Current member of the California State Senate, Scott Weiner, supports the proposal and believes that “forcing people to use drugs on our streets doesn’t make anyone safer.” While both parties speak in the best interests of the community, Weiner sees the epidemic as a public health issue that must be addressed immediately by attempting new treatment outreach, no matter how progressive it may appear.

Recent legislation, like the lift on Suboxone prescription credentials, demonstrates the government’s increased efforts to find a method that will end the opioid epidemic. Jeannette Zanipatin, CA state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, shared that “the Senate has made it abundantly clear they are committed to doing whatever it takes to save lives.

One good aspect of the California bill is that it emphasizes the importance of assisting people who inject drugs to seek help from drug treatment facilities like Boardwalk Recovery Center. Regardless of the political climate, our facility is open and ready to assist anyone with an addiction issue.

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