Safe Injection Sites Get Green Light From California Lawmakers

By Keri Blakinger 08/27/18

“I am committed to opening one of these sites here in San Francisco, no matter what it takes, because the status quo is not acceptable,” said Mayor London Breed.

San Francisco intersection

Last week, California lawmakers green-lit a bill that would allow safe injection sites in San Francisco as part of a three-year pilot program. 

The forward-thinking measure, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman and state Senator Scott Wiener, has already enjoyed support from local advocates and lawmakers.  

“I am committed to opening one of these sites here in San Francisco, no matter what it takes, because the status quo is not acceptable,” Mayor London Breed said Monday

Eggman voiced similar support for the proposed program. “Should we keep trying what has failed for decades,” she said in a statement, “or give San Francisco the choice to try something that we know saves lives, reduces disease, and saves money?”

The city’s Director of Health Barbara Garcia estimated that San Francisco has more than 22,000 people using IV drugs. 

Last year, a slightly broader version of the bill stalled in the state Senate. That iteration of the would-be law would have authorized six counties—Alameda, Humboldt, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Joaquin—to participate in the harm reduction program.

The current version applies only to San Francisco:

“This bill would, until January 1, 2022, authorize the City and County of San Francisco to approve entities to operate overdose prevention programs for adults that satisfies specified requirements,” the bill reads, “including, among other things, a hygienic space supervised by health care professionals, as defined, where people who use drugs can consume preobtained drugs, sterile consumption supplies, and access to referrals to substance use disorder treatment.”

The revised version also retools the language, calling it an overdose prevention program instead of a safer drug consumption program. Whatever it’s called, greenlighting the program would not skirt federal drug laws and it’s not clear how the federal government would respond to such a program were it put into effect.

“People are injecting drugs whether or not we intervene,” Wiener said, according to the San Francisco Examiner. “Safe injection sites provide people with an opportunity to inject in a clean, safe environment, with healthcare personnel available to prevent overdoses, and with an opportunity to offer people addiction, healthcare, housing, and other services.”

Now, the bill is waiting for a vote in the state Assembly. The last time around, the lower chamber approved the bill 41-33, according to Curbed

If the measure sails through the Assembly this time around, it’ll still need a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown before it becomes law, potentially taking effect at the start of next year.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.