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Brown vetoes supervised injection bill

by Liz Highleyman

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed San Francisco to open a supervised injection site pilot project. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed San Francisco to open a supervised injection site pilot project. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

On Sunday, just hours before the October 1 deadline, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 186, legislation that would have allowed San Francisco to open a pilot supervised injection site.

"Fundamentally, I do not believe that enabling illegal drug use in government-sponsored injection centers — with no corresponding requirement that the user undergo treatment — will reduce drug addiction," Brown wrote in his veto message, which can be found at: https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/AB-186-veto-9.30.pdf.

Supervised injection facilities allow people to use drugs under the watch of medical staff, reducing the risk of overdose deaths. They provide sterile needles, which prevents transmission of HIV and hepatitis B and C, and offer clients an entry point for seeking medical care and addiction treatment. Indoor sites also reduce street-based drug use and improper syringe disposal, seen as a growing problem in the city.

There are currently around 100 safe injection sites worldwide. San Francisco — home to an estimated 22,500 people who inject drugs — is among several cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle, vying to open the first supervised injection facility in the United States. A recent study found that a single supervised injection site in San Francisco could avert at least three new HIV infections and 19 cases of hepatitis C per year, while saving the city $3.5 million annually.

AB 186, sponsored by lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and co-authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), aimed to amend state controlled substances laws to allow San Francisco to implement a three-year supervised injection pilot program. The bill originally applied to several counties, but Eggman limited its scope after it narrowly failed to pass the Senate last year. The Legislature passed the finalized bill on August 27.

The same day, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein penned an opinion piece in the New York Times, stating, "It is a federal felony to maintain any location for the purpose of facilitating illicit drug use. ... Because federal law clearly prohibits injection sites, cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action."

Wiener expressed his disappointment about Brown's veto in a statement.

"We should not allow threats from a backward federal government stop us from helping people who are dying on our streets," he said. "We have a terrible problem of heroin and meth addiction, with far too much public drug injection. This public health epidemic calls for forward-looking, progressive solutions.

"We are definitely not giving up on this important public health strategy," he added.

Mayor London Breed, who lost her younger sister to a drug overdose, concurred with Wiener's intention to continue pursuing supervised injection sites. Breed has been a proponent of the facilities, including convening a task force and working with Glide Memorial Methodist Church to open a realistic safe injection demonstration site in late August. (No drugs were injected during the demonstration project.)

"If we are gong to prevent overdoses and connect people to services and treatment that they badly need to stop using drugs in the first place, we need safe injection sites. If we are gong to stop the drug use we see in public every day and get needles off our streets, we need proven public health solutions," Breed said in a statement via Twitter (https://twitter.com/LondonBreed/status/1046609439006978053). "Despite this veto, we will still continue to work with our community partners on trying to come up with a solution to move this effort forward."

Advocates expressed dismay about Brown's decision.

"I'm shocked that Governor Brown turned his back on all the science and evidence and chose to veto this bill," Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance told the Bay Area Reporter. "How many people will die of an accidental overdose before we get these services open here? Governor Brown has blood on his hands. I'm confident that Mayor Breed will work with community organizations to figure out how to move forward with these desperately needed services here in San Francisco."

Contact the reporter at liz@black-rose.com.

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