Supervised drug injection sites could soon pop up in California. How will they work?
For years, the idea of establishing supervised drug injection sites has been a long-standing goal for some progressive California leaders looking to address the burgeoning overdose crisis. Efforts to launch such programs have come close, but never to the finish line.
Now, as the latest legislation seeking to sanction these sites heads to the governor’s desk, proponents are gearing up to make these injection sites a reality — and they hope a success — in the Golden State.
Senate Bill 57 would authorize these overdose prevention pilot programs in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, which would operate through Jan. 1, 2028.
“We have been engaging with the governor’s office for the past four years on this measure. We haven’t heard that he’s not going to sign it, so we’re hopeful that he’ll stick to his word from 2018,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that works to decriminalize drugs and a co-sponsor of the bill.
Alex Stack, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said they don’t comment on pending legislation.
But if Newsom does sign it, what exactly would these sites look like? Who would be responsible for staffing them and how will they be funded? The details and logistics will be left to local officials.
Because San Francisco has been considering this idea for almost a decade, it would likely be the first ready to launch a program in early 2023, Zanipatin said. Supervised injection sites could cost a couple of million dollars per year to run, and cities and counties that choose to establish these programs will have to find their own source of funding.
Last year, New York City became the first to establish supervised injection sites in the U.S. Cities in other countries have operated such centers for years, including Vancouver, Mexicali and Barcelona. The Vancouver site is often referenced as a model — with about 1,700 individuals using it each month, the center is credited with reducing overdose deaths in its neighborhood and city. Switzerland was the first country to open a supervised injection site in 1986.
The goal of these programs, supporters say, is to provide drug users a safe, hygienic space where they can get clean needles and administer their own drugs under the supervision of trained staff. Staff members would monitor users and be ready to administer overdose reversal medications if needed, which could ultimately save lives. Medical groups in support of these programs have pointed out injection sites could also help reduce the risk of Hepatitis C and HIV infections associated with intravenous drug use.
Sen. Scott Wiener, author of the bill, said the jurisdictions that would pilot the programs asked to be included in the bill. “They are asking us to help them address the escalations and crisis of overdose deaths that we’re experiencing in California,” Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, said during an Aug. 1 legislative hearing.
Those in opposition to Wiener’s bill, including Republican legislators and law enforcement groups, argue these programs are a type of addiction maintenance that normalize illegal behavior.