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Safe injection bill clears Senate committees

by Liz Highleyman

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman
Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman  

A bill that would allow supervised drug consumption facilities in California won the approval of two state Senate committees this month, clearing the way for a vote by the full body.

Assembly Bill 186, introduced by lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and co-authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), permits exceptions to state controlled substances laws, allowing local governments in several counties â€" including San Francisco â€" to authorize supervised injection facilities on a pilot basis.

The Senate Health Committee passed the bill by a vote of 5-3 July 5, and the Public Safety Committee did so by a 5-2 margin July 11.

"This bill has the potential to save so many lives in California and to give us the tools to better address public drug use here in San Francisco," Laura Thomas, interim state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Bay Area Reporter. "Supervised consumption services send the message that we care about people who use drugs, that we want them to be safe and healthy, and that we care about our neighborhoods."

Supervised consumption facilities offer a place to inject drugs under the watch of medical staff, cutting the risk of overdose fatalities. They provide clean syringes and other injection equipment to prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis B and C. They also reduce street-based drug use and discarded syringes, and offer clients an entry point for seeking addiction treatment and medical care.

San Francisco is one of several cities vying to open the first supervised injection facility in the United States. There are currently around 100 safe injection sites in countries including Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Australia.

The Senate votes come at a time when drug overdose deaths are rising in California and nationwide. In 2015 there were over 52,000 fatal overdoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The San Francisco Department of Public Health estimates that there are more than 22,000 people who inject drugs in the city and around 100 overdose deaths per year.

At the same time, improper syringe disposal appears to be increasing in the city. San Francisco Public Works says it collected more than 10,000 discarded syringes in March, compared with less than 3,000 in March 2016, according to an ABC7 News report.

"AB 186 gives cities like San Francisco an additional tool to address the drug addiction we see every day on our streets, help get more people into treatment, and reduce the number of needles we see on the ground," said Wiener, who spoke in favor of the bill at the Public Safety Committee hearing.

Concern about overdoses and frustration with street drug use led Board of Supervisors President London Breed to create a Safe Injection Services Task Force, which will study the feasibility of supervised consumption facilities in the city. The task force is expected by issue a report by late August.

The full Senate will likely vote on AB 186 after it returns from recess August 21. If the bill passes, it will go back to the Assembly for concurrence, and then to Governor Jerry Brown's desk.



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