Senator Wiener’s Safe Consumption Sites Legislation Passes Assembly
Sacramento - Senate Bill 57, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), passed the Assembly by a vote of 42-28. It will now return to the Senate for a concurrence vote — the bill previously passed the Senate but was amended in the Assembly — and then will go to the Governor’s desk to be signed.
SB 57 legalizes overdose prevention programs, also known as safe consumption sites or safe injection sites, as pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, the City of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. The City Council or Board of Supervisors of each pilot jurisdiction has requested to be included in the legislation, and each will decide locally whether to participate and to what extent. SB 57 simply removes the state prohibition that currently makes such programs illegal. SB 57 is a pilot program that will run for five years, through January 1, 2028.
“Every overdose death is preventable,” said Senator Wiener. “We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. Right now, we are letting people die on our streets for no reason other than an arbitrary legal prohibition that we need to remove. SB 57 is long overdue, and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, overdoses and substance use overall have risen significantly. For example, San Francisco saw a record number of overdose deaths in 2020, with 711 deaths total. In 2021, 640 people died of overdoses. San Francisco is sadly on track to meet or exceed these numbers in 2022. Nationally, 100,000 people died of drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021, including approximately 10,000 people in California. This is a public health crisis, and it is preventable.
Overdose prevention programs — which have been in existence for years in Europe, Canada, and Australia, with proven success — are supervised facilities where those using drugs intravenously or otherwise can do so more safely, with the goal of transitioning them into recovery programs. In the decades that over 170 facilities have been open in other parts of the world, not one overdose death has occurred in one of them. Most recently, New York City opened two safe consumption sites, and in the first three months of operation, staff at these sites were able to halt over 150 overdoses.
Over an 18-month study period of Insite, a safe consumption site in Vancouver, 336 overdoses were reported – but in every instance, the person overdosing lived. This is because there were trained professionals onsite to administer live saving treatments like Narcan, and get people emergency help. Studies also suggest that overdose prevention programs reduce the burden on emergency services – like ambulances and emergency rooms – that traditionally respond to overdose events.
Recent studies of an unsanctioned overdose prevention program also suggest that there is no increase in crime, violence, or drug trafficking in areas surrounding these programs. Crime actually decreased in these areas. Studies also show that overdose prevention programs lead to less injection-related litter, like dropped syringes.
Trained 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 strips 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. Overdose prevention programs also relieve pressure on hospital emergency rooms.
This legislation has been introduced multiple times, and it passed the legislature in 2018 in a previous form. 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, as well as public health and addiction treatment leaders.
The following organizations are co-sponsoring SB 57: 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.