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CA safe injection bill takes next step

by Liz Highleyman

Safe injection kits are ready to be handed out in San<br>Francisco. Photo: Rick Gerharter.
Safe injection kits are ready to be handed out in San
Francisco. Photo: Rick Gerharter.  

A bill that would allow supervised drug consumption facilities in California took another step forward, as the Assembly Public Safety Committee voted 4-3 on April 25 to advance the legislation.

Supervised consumption facilities allow people to inject drugs under the watch of medical staff, reducing the risk of overdose deaths. The facilities provide clean syringes, preventing transmission of HIV and hepatitis B and C. They also reduce street-based drug use and improper syringe disposal, and offer clients an entry point for seeking medical care or addiction treatment.

"This is a huge step toward establishing a more effective, treatment-focused approach to drug addiction and abuse in California," said lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), who introduced the legislation, known as AB 186.

Eggman added that the Public Safety Committee's input helped refine the bill, and its support "clearly demonstrates the Legislature's willingness to consider bold ideas to get people into treatment and counseling, to protect public health and safety and, most importantly, to save lives."

AB 186 would allow for exceptions to existing laws that make it a crime to possess controlled substances or drug paraphernalia, or to maintain a place for the purpose of using or distributing drugs. It would allow a limited number of cities and counties to authorize the operation of supervised injection facilities on a pilot basis.

The Assembly Health Committee previously voted in favor of AB 186 in March, becoming the first supervised consumption bill to win a legislative vote, according to Eggman. The bill will next go to the Assembly Appropriations Committee and then to the Assembly floor.

"It's great that this important public health and safety bill took another step forward," gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who co-authored the bill with Eggman, told the Bay Area Reporter. "Having a safe space where people can inject will mean less injecting in public spaces, fewer needles on the ground, and more opportunities to get people into recovery programs. Our current situation isn't working. Let's try this pilot and see if it works. If it doesn't work, we can pivot away from it. But let's at least try."

San Francisco organizations, including Project Inform, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Glide, and HealthRight 360, support the legislation and have lobbied for it at Assembly committee hearings. Dr. Andrew Desruisseau from HealthRight360 testified before the Public Safety Committee about the role supervised consumption facilities can play in linking people who inject drugs to addiction treatment.

 

Among the first in U.S.

There are currently around 100 safe injection sites in countries around the world, including Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Australia.

 

Vancouver's Insite - the first North American facility - served more than 6,500 clients in 2015 and has intervened in approximately 5,000 overdose incidents, resulting in zero deaths, since it opened in 2003.

Drug overdose is a leading cause of accidental death in California and nationwide. In 2014 there were more than 47,000 fatal overdoses in the U.S. - more than the number of deaths in motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

San Francisco is among several U.S. cities moving forward on supervised injection facilities, including Baltimore, Boston, New York City, and Seattle. Earlier this year the Board of Health in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, voted to approve two facilities that are expected to open within a year.

As the B.A.R. reported in February, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed called for the creation of a city task force to discuss the issue. The task force is expected to begin meeting in May, according to Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports supervised consumption facilities.

Recent research showed that a supervised injection facility similar to Insite in San Francisco could avert at least three new HIV infections and 19 cases of hepatitis C per year.

"This is a significant victory and moves California closer to opening supervised consumption services," Thomas told the B.A.R. "The San Francisco task force will give the city a bigger opportunity to talk about how these services could work here and what the benefits might be. It's time to take supervised consumption services seriously as a part of our harm reduction approach to drugs and drug use."

 

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