California’s Newsom Vetoes a Bill to Legalize Drug Injecting Sites

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill allowing Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco to set up supervised injection sites for opiate users.

The bill’s infinite number of safe injection locations could have unexpected repercussions, Newsom said in vetoing it. He concerned that they could be harmful “Without a plan, they could backfire. We can’t risk worsening drug use in these areas.”

It was a highly-watched and controversial bill this session. Proponents intended to give drug users a location to inject while trained staff watched for overdoses. The idea comes amid a surge in opioid overdose deaths. Since 2006, California’s opioid-related overdose deaths have risen from 1,500 to approximately 7,000 in 2021.

“They’re putting fentanyl in everything,” stated Action Drug Rehab’s Cary Quashen. “Every patient admitted to this drug treatment program in the previous three months is testing positive for fentanyl. I realize that they want a safe place for users, but we must be careful with our message.”

Quashen: “They need counseling at minimum.” “Safe locations should save lives and encourage help-seeking. Education is needed. They need counseling. They require treatment. Treatment needs additional funding. Better education funding.”

Newsom earlier expressed interest. His decision comes as he confronts heightened public scrutiny as a future presidential candidate, while denying interest.

The clinics would “help us confront the surge of overdose deaths in California and across the country,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco. Senate GOP Leader Scott Wilk said the bill amounts to “free needles and a safe place to shoot up.”

Wilk and other Senate Republicans urged Newsom to reject “drug dens” that may subject local providers to federal charges, despite U.S. officials are considering legalizing the sites with “proper guardrails.”

“Letting individuals get hooked on heroin and other narcotics and then releasing them is ridiculous,” said Republican Sen. Brian Jones.

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Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher sent a letter and said bill supporters “promote violence.”

Los Angeles addiction therapist John Tsilimparis said the state must address the overdose epidemic but have a clear end objective.

“If we provide you this service, you need to be in a program afterward,” Tsilimparis added. “The goal is drug-free, sober living. If it’s neither and lacks a conclusion. Its positives frighten me.”

The state Senate approved the law 21-11, despite GOP opposition and eight Democrats not voting, after the Assembly passed it 42-29 in June. New York City’s first two overdose prevention sites launched in December and have prevented more than 150 overdoses. Rhode Island permitted testing for two years.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed claimed more than 2 1/2 times as many individuals died of accidental drug overdoses in 2020 than from COVID-19. She declared a Tenderloin emergency in December because to rising overdose rates.

According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths jumped 28.5% to more than 100,000 in the year ending April 2021, including approximately 10,000 Californians. Each California governing board has requested inclusion. If Newsom signs the bill, it will be up to them to proceed. The test programs run until 2028.

Participating governments must pay for a 2027 assessment on the program’s effectiveness and community impact. Cross-party opposition grew. Critics believe users will steal or prostitute to buy narcotics near the sites. The measure would ban arresting or punishing anyone involved with the sites, including clients.

Former governor Jerry Brown vetoed a 2018 bill that would have authorized San Francisco sites. Democrat Brown: “Enabling illicit and dangerous drug usage won’t work.” The proposal was “all incentive and no stick” because drug treatment wasn’t required.

Supporters say site personnel could help users obtain treatment and reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis by supplying clean needles. They could contain fentanyl or other drug testing kits.

“There is no silver bullet to our overdose problem, but they are a proven method to minimize overdose deaths, get people into treatment, and reduce syringe litter,” Wiener said during the Senate’s final consideration.

Supporters and opponents have different evidence on whether 170 such places in Australia, Canada, and Europe have been successful and if they have increased local crime.