Senator Wiener Introduces Legislation to Legalize Overdose Prevention Programs — Also Known as Safe Consumption Sites — in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles County

December 8, 2020

Sacramento - Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation, Senate Bill 57, to legalize overdose prevention programs, also known as safe consumption sites or safe injection sites, as a pilot program in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles Counties. Each of the pilot areas will decide locally whether to participate, and 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 both rising significantly. For example, San Francisco is on track to record nearly 800 overdose deaths in 2020, shattering past records. This is a public health crisis.

Overdose prevention programs — which have been operating for years in Europe, Canada, and Australia, with proven success — are facilities supervised by medical professionals 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 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. This law would act as a pilot program, and would sunset on January 1, 2027.

San Francisco has repeatedly requested this authorization. Oakland’s Mayor and City Council requested last year to be included. And two members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have asked for the County to be included.

Medical 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 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.

This legislation has been introduced multiple times, and passed the legislature in 2018. 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.

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 are co-sponsoring this legislation.

“So many communities in our state are experiencing dramatic rises in public drug use and overdose deaths, and now is the time to implement a proven anti-overdose strategy that helps get people into recovery,” said Senator Wiener. “People struggling with addiction deserve access to treatment, as well as care and supplies that reduce the risk of overdose and infections. COVID-19 has led to a substantial and worrying increase in deaths of despair – overdose deaths and suicides. With a Newsom Administration and Biden in the White House, I’m hopeful we can finally get this done in 2021. This legislation, if it becomes law, will save many, many lives.”

Los Angeles County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis wrote a letter of support for SB 57: “We...strongly support the introduction of your bill to create a statewide Safe Consumption Sites Pilot Project, one that would include Los Angeles County. We believe that LA County is well-positioned to be one of the three jurisdictions to pilot and evaluate health programs that have proven to be effective in reducing the number and rate of fatal drug overdoses, as well as reducing overdose-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations.”

“The drug abuse epidemic is a public health crisis, not a criminal one,” said co-author Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), who is a co-author of this legislation. “We cannot keep watching thousands of addicts die while holding on to our old ideas of what works. Around the world, safe injection sites have proven to reduce overdose deaths and addiction rates while providing access to housing, healthcare, and other public services.”  

“Over a decade after we decided addiction was a disease, we still haven’t taken action to treat it that way,” said co-author Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles). “Patients suffering from the disorder still struggle to find treatment, if stigma hasn’t already stopped them from trying. Senator Weiner’s bill, which creates safe environments for healing, is a meaningful step toward changing that. It tells the families and communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic that they are worthy of our help. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

"As overdoses reach a terrifying level in San Francisco, it could not be more critical to address this crisis with strategies that work," said co-author Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). "I am proud to again join Senator Wiener in this fight to prevent overdoses and save lives."

“For years Overdose Preventions Programs have shown that they save lives, help get people into treatment, and save costs in the health care and criminal justice systems,” said co-author Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton). “The COVID-19 pasdemic has further stressed our health systems and safety nets, so any local government willing to pilot these services should be allowed to do so.”

“It’s time to change our biases toward addiction,” said co-author Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). “Not only do supervised settings save lives, but they can also open doors to treatment. We must show compassion to those suffering from this disease and be ready to help them when they need or ask for it.” 

“Overdose prevention programs save lives, reduce public drug use, prevent the spread of disease, and connect people to medical care that can help treat their addiction," said San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed. “With a new Administration coming into the White House that actually believes in public health solutions, I'm hopeful that the work we are all doing to pilot these sites can go forward. Senator Wiener's legislation is key to this effort, and I'm proud to partner with him on this innovative solution that will make a real difference in our City."  

“Oakland is a compassionate city and overdose prevention sites can save lives and spare families the horrific pain of losing loved ones,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said. “These sites can help people who suffer from drug addiction get on a path to healing, as well as manage the impacts our entire community experiences when we allow drug illness to go untreated. I support Sen. Weiner’s legislation to make our cities safer and healthier for all residents.”

“The war on drugs has been an expensive, wasteful, racist failure,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Council President. “We need to adopt policies that prioritize public health and community healing.” 

“While we are dealing with a global pandemic, we’re facing another deadly crisis here,” said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee. San Francisco has seen the opioid crisis explode out of control -- with at least two overdose deaths a day. I hope State legislators will join Senator Wiener in passing this overdue legislation to create Overdose Prevention Programs. These critical services will not only save lives, but help us turn the unbearable conditions on our streets around. Research demonstrates how safe injection sites increase users' access to treatment and decrease public drug use, as well as prevent the spread of infectious diseases.”

"Drug Policy Alliance is pleased to co-sponsor this measure as it is critically important, now, more than ever," said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With COVID-19 exacerbating what was already an extremely devastating overdose crisis in California and across the nation, safe consumption sites provide an evidence-based, cost-effective approach for us to save lives now, prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and connect people with other vitally important services - such as treatment, housing and other healthcare resources – which have been shown to improve health outcomes in the long-term."

“Authorizing supervised consumption services is more urgent than ever,” said Laura Thomas, Director of Harm Reduction Policy at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “Hundreds more people have died of drug overdoses in San Francisco this year while we wait for this legislation to pass and get signed into law – four times as many San Franciscans have died of overdose as have died of COVID-19 this year. San Francisco wants and needs these services and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation is eager to implement them as soon as possible.” 

“With overdose death rates far outpacing COVID death rates in San Francisco, the need for safe drug consumption services cannot be more evident,” said Vitka Eisen, MSW, Ed.D, former injection heroin user and President & Chief Executive Officer of HealthRIGHT 360, a provider of addiction and other health care services to 35,000 Californians annually. “It is our collective responsibility to respond affirmatively to public health officials requesting to open these evidence-based, life-saving, cost-effective services.”

“The California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM) is proud to be a co-sponsor of Senator Weiner's SB 57, his landmark Overdose Prevention Program (OPP) legislation,” said David Kan, MD, DFASAM. “OPPs provide a spectrum of care for people who use drugs that are often missed in traditional treatment settings. OPPs are an effective gateway to treatment.  OPPs offer California the opportunity to reduce fatal overdose deaths and to engage more people in treatment. CSAM believes OPP are essential to provide substance use disorder treatment for ALL participants regardless of gender identity, ability to pay, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic circumstance. Addiction does not discriminate. Access to treatment should not discriminate either.”

"This is the time to pass this bill and open Safe Consumption Sites all over California,” said National Harm Reduction Coalition's Senior Director of Capacity Building and Community Mobilization, Laura Guzman. “COVID, the rapid growth of homelessness, the increase of OD-related deaths and vulnerabilities to HIV and HCV outbreaks in every jurisdiction, including in those most resourced such as SF, requires that we scale up our investment in the health of people who use drugs, and in particular that we protect unhoused, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx folks, along with other vulnerable communities most impacted. Safe consumption sites must become a critical component of our health care system in California in 2021."

“CAADPE is proud to join, as a co-sponsor, with Senator Weiner in his effort to address California's overdose crisis,” said Al Senella, President of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives. “Overdose Prevention Programs (OPP) are proven to make our communities safer and healthier. In this time of the need for public health safeguards, California should be using all known and effective strategies to curb the state's overdose crisis.  Safe overdose prevention projects have been shown to reduce health and safety problems associated with drug use, including public drug use, discarded syringes, HIV and hepatitis infections, and overdose deaths. CAADPE applauds Sen. Wiener for his leadership in bringing this important treatment alternative to California.”