‘Safe Houses’ For Drug Use Gains Support In California

By Victoria Kim 07/14/17

California lawmakers are pushing a harm reduction bill that would bring safe injection facilities to the state.

inside the safe injection facility Insite in Vancouver
A look inside the safe injection facility Insite in Vancouver Photo via YouTube

A proposal to establish supervised injection sites in California is moving through the state legislature. 

After passing in the Assembly in June, Assembly Bill 186 was approved last Wednesday by the Senate health committee. The bill would establish supervised injection facilities (SIFs) in eight California counties. Residents would be able to use illicit drugs at the facilities, supervised by trained staff ready to act in the event of an overdose.

The idea behind SIFs is to save lives by providing a safe environment for injection drug users—in addition to getting drug users off the streets and offering a gateway to get help, housing, and other support. 

“The drug is illegal, but the person who’s using the drug is suffering from a recognized medical disease,” said Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, who oversaw the opening of the first North American SIF while he was mayor of Vancouver in 2003. “What this does is simply treat the addiction, keep somebody alive and keep them off the streets.”

The idea behind the California bill, proposed by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman of Stockton, is modeled after Insite, the SIF in Vancouver.

Eggman notes that fatal drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in California and the rest of the U.S., and that injection drug use is associated with rising rates of HIV and hepatitis transmission through sharing needles.

“We are in the midst of an epidemic, and this bill will grant us another tool to fight it—to provide better access to services like treatment and counseling, to better protect public health and safety, and to save lives,” said Eggman.

There are currently about 100 SIFs operating globally in countries like Spain, Canada, Norway, and throughout Europe. The U.S. has yet to establish any, but a few cities and states, including California, are considering the benefits of SIFs. Other cities debating plans to open their own facilities include Ithaca, New York, and Seattle, Washington, where SIFs have the support of Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine. 

"Addiction is a health care issue, and I think it's high time we started treating it as a public health issue, versus a criminal issue," said Eggman when she first announced her proposal in April 2016. "This bill is one step to be able to address the heroin addiction and epidemic of overdoses that we're having in our country."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr