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L.A. could get safe injection sites to help address drug overdose deaths

A person in Vancouver puts a tourniquet on his arm before taking an injection
Ramzy Diryas looks for a vein to inject fentanyl while using an injection booth at a supervised consumption site in Vancouver. A bill to allow safe injection sites in California is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A bill allowing drug users to safely inject themselves at supervised facilities in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland passed the state Senate Monday and is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who authored SB 57, said on Twitter that the safe injection sites “are a proven strategy to save lives [and] get folks into treatment. It’s time.”

The bill would allow the three cities to operate overdose prevention programs until 2028 and provide a hygienic site where people can inject preobtained drugs. The sites would include sterilized supplies, trained staff and referrals to substance use disorder treatment programs. Staff would also be trained and authorized to administer an opioid antagonist.

Before implementing the program, the three cities would have to give local public health officials, law enforcement and the public the opportunity to weigh in on the program in a public meeting. The organization operating the program would also have to provide an annual report to the city or county.

In drug treatment in L.A. County, “contingency management” remains uncommon, despite strong evidence that it can help people stop using stimulants.

People in the program would be exempt from professional discipline, civil liability and existing criminal penalties due to good-faith conduct and actions under the overdose prevention program. The Medical Board of California and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California would still be allowed to take disciplinary action against licensed medical professionals.

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California legislators have been responding to a spike in fentanyl overdoses and deaths exacerbated by the pandemic. As fentanyl addiction has become one of the most urgent public health crises in the country, overdose deaths in the U.S. have spiked to more than 100,000 in a one-year period ending in April 2021, an increase of almost 30% from 78,000 deaths the year before, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California has also been grappling with deadly overdoses. Los Angeles County saw an increase of 48% during the first five months of the pandemic compared to the same time period in 2019, according to the county Department of Public Health. San Francisco also reported 297 accidental overdose deaths from January 2022 to June 2022. The California Department of Public Health recorded 3,946 fentanyl-related deaths in 2020.

One bill would make it a felony to possess 2 or more grams of the synthetic opioid.

Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid used in medical settings to address extreme pain. The drug is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, making it very dangerous outside of medical settings, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The drug is sometimes added to heroin to make it more potent and many people who believe they’re buying heroin don’t know that they’re actually buying fentanyl, often leading to overdose deaths.

Safe injection facilities, which are operated in Switzerland, Canada and eight other countries, allow users to inject themselves while offering treatment and social services, including housing.

A nearly identical bill by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) made it to then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, but he rejected it over his concerns that healthcare professionals and local officials could face federal criminal charges by opening safe injection facilities.

Last year, New York became the first city in the U.S. to open a safe injection site.

On the campaign trail, Newsom said he was “open” to the idea of safe injection facilities but didn’t outright endorse Eggman’s proposal.


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