Facts Show Safe Injection Sites Save Lives, Gov. Newsom, Pass SB 57

safe consumption and injection sites to prevent overdoses

Credit Image: © TNS via ZUMA Wire

Advocates are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign a bill to legalize overdose prevention programs such as safe consumption and injection sites in California.

Under Senate Bill 57, which the California General Assembly passed on August 3, the cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco, as well as Los Angeles County, can pilot these programs for up to five years.

The California General Assembly passed the bill after a report from the Department of Public Health showed that more than 2,000 people experiencing homelessness died of drug overdoses in 2021, a nearly 56 percent increase from the previous year. 

“California — like our nation as a whole — is experiencing a dramatic and preventable increase in overdose deaths, and we need every available tool to help people stay alive and get healthy,” California Senator Wiener, D-San Francisco, who sponsored the legislation, said.

“Safe consumption sites are a proven model to help people avoid overdose deaths, reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission, reduce syringe litter, and help people access treatment,” Wiener continued.

Overdose deaths have become a hot topic of debate in California since the pandemic began in March 2020. For instance, San Francisco saw 740 people die from overdoses in 2020, which was a record-high for the city. Another 640 people died from overdoses in 2021. Wiener said the city is on track to surpass these totals in 2022.

Across the state, more than 10,000 people died from overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021. According to the Center for Disease Control, that number accounted for more than 10 percent of the total recorded nationwide over the same time period.

“This legislation isn’t about whether we want people to use drugs,” Weiner said. “Rather, it’s an acknowledgment that people are using drugs, and our choice is whether we want to make every effort to help them survive and get healthy. The time has come for California to adopt this proven overdose death prevention strategy.”

Some states have adopted overdose prevention programs as they grapple with increasing rates of overdose deaths. For instance, Rhode Island approved the nation’s first safe consumption site in October 2021. These sites allow people to use drugs under the supervision of social workers and medical professionals.

New York City currently has two operational safe consumption sitesPhiladelphia has one of these sites as well.

These sites have also proven capable of preventing overdose deaths from occurring. For instance, data from New York City shows that its two safe consumption sites have prevented nearly 400 overdoses within their first three months of operation.

These sites’ success is one reason why advocates are calling on Gov. Newsom to sign the bill rather than veto it.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board described these spaces as “a win for everyone.”

“Providing people with a safe space to use indoors reduces public drug use and discarded syringes. It’s a proven method for saving lives,” the board wrote in a recent op-ed. “And it would offer a new, low-barrier method for people to access addiction treatment.”

The Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee also published op-eds that made similar arguments.

During a press conference earlier this month, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told reporters that she supports the bill because it will add another tool to the city’s toolbelt as it continues to combat rising overdose incidents. 

“These sites are overdose prevention programs first and foremost,” Schaaf said. “We see at least one person a day in Highland Hospital, our public hospital, with overdose symptoms.”

But not everyone is on board with Newsom signing Senate Bill 57.

California Republican leader Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, described the bill on August 1 as “one of the most dangerous” in his time in the legislature.

“Instead of focusing on a strategy to help people get their lives back, get off drugs and into treatment, California Democrats focus on giving people free needles and a safe place to shoot up,” Wilk told Cal Matters, a nonprofit newsroom.

How You Can Help

Overdose prevention programs are a great way to help people experiencing homelessness get treatment for substance abuse disorders. Not only do the sites allow them to use drugs safely, but they can also connect people with services and programs to help them overcome addiction.

That’s why we need you to contact your officials and representatives. If you are in California, please sign this petition! If you live elsewhere, tell your officials you support opening a safe consumption site in your neighborhood. They have proven effective at helping homeless people find housing, which is the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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