Editorial: Why do Republican lawmakers want drug users to die in the street?
California legislators did a brave thing last week when they approved a proposal to allow three California cities — including Los Angeles — to open facilities where addicts can self-administer illicit drugs without fear of arrest or a fatal overdose.
It was brave because these so-called safe drug consumption sites aren’t strictly legal under federal law and are very controversial, even in liberal California. Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a proposal passed by the Legislature four years ago, even as deaths from accidental overdoses were skyrocketing in the United States and such sites have been used successfully by other countries for more than three decades.
Now the fate of Senate Bill 57 is in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is being lobbied by Republican state lawmakers to veto the bill. In a letter, GOP state senators referred to the sites as “drug dens” and said they would worsen the drug problem.
New York City has opened the nation’s first supervised drug injection site. And it couldn’t come too soon. Between April 2020 and April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S., despite the prevalance of naloxone.
It’s a ridiculous assertion, as well as mean-spirited. These aren’t smoky, dirty flophouses where people experiment with illicit drugs, but sterile healthcare facilities with trained staff, hygienic medical equipment and naloxone, a medication that can stop overdoses. Also, this isn’t a mandate. The bill simply allows local authorities to decide to open these facilities on a trial basis through 2028. Didn’t the GOP previously support local control?
What those senators are really asking is for the governor to turn his back on the thousands of Californians, many of them young, who are dying from preventable overdoses.
About 10,000 people died in California from drug overdoses in 2021. Many of the deaths involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has been flooding the illicit drug market and is so potent a small amount can cause death in minutes. Among the ways these facilities can help drug users is by providing test strips that can detect fentanyl in street drugs. It’s impossible to know if some of those lost lives might have been saved if a safe consumption site had been available nearby, but it’s certainly a possibility. New York City opened two safe drug consumption sites late last year — the first in the nation — and have prevented at least 390 overdoses so far, according to Mayor Eric Adams.
Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs (including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine) to increase potency, but it can be deadly. Test kits can help.
Republicans say it would be better to expand state-supported substance abuse treatment (if Republican lawmakers return next year with a bill to fund more drug treatment programs, good for them). But even if there were enough programs available now for every person with a substance abuse problem, it can take many rounds of treatment to get drug-free. It’s illogical to oppose solutions that can help keep these people alive until they are able to get treatment and that help communities grappling with drug use in parks, on sidewalks and in other public places. (By the way, one good place to distribute information about access to substance abuse programs is at safe drug consumption sites.)
We would hope Newsom has the compassion — and the courage — to do the humane thing and sign the bill.
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