California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a bill on Monday to authorize safe consumption sites for illicit drugs as part of a pilot program. The move came several weeks after the California Senate approved the measure, which was authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D) and sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), and other co-sponsoring organizations.
Under the bill, pilot programs with supervised drug consumption sites would have been allowed in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.
Newsom’s decision to return the bill without his signature left many politicians and organizations disappointed as overdose deaths reach alarming numbers across the country. These sites, which offer a bold alternative to traditional approaches, are shown to yield good results.
For that reason, one city is considering taking action without the Governor’s support - San Francisco. City Attorney David Chiu said he would support a nonprofit that would do this, writes San Francisco Chronicle.
“To save lives, I fully support a non-profit moving forward now with New York’s model of overdose prevention programs,” Chiu said in the statement.
Since the beginning of 2020, more than 1,600 people in San Francisco have died from an overdose, which is why city officials have been pushing for safe consumption sites for several years now. They, however, haven’t gotten far due to federal and state laws that do not offer protection to medical professionals who would run them.
Last November, New York City became the first in the nation to open two overdose prevention centers (OPC) where people can use illicit drugs and receive medical care and services. Since opening, these sites have had thousands of visitors and helped prevent at least 400 overdoses.
San Francisco May Take Action After All
Spokespeople for two San Francisco nonprofits that manage overdose prevention programs - HealthRight360 and the AIDS Foundation confirmed that they would be open to running a site, but need a location and funding either from the city or, like in the Big Apple, private donors, reported San Francisco Chronicle.
Newsom, who was the mayor of San Francisco (2004-2011) is already facing backlash from city locals.
Vitka Eisen, CEO of HealthRight360 said the Governor's letter is a “bull— veto message” offering another way of saying “I don’t want this on my watch.” She noted the letter was missing detailed arguments supporting his concerns, as he’s known for two years that the legislation was underway and he could have spoken up sooner.
Senator Wiener called Governor's veto a tragic move, adding they won’t give up. “While this veto is a major setback for the effort to save lives and connect people to treatment, we must not and will not let it end this movement,” Wiener said. He added that additional studies are not needed, as there are many from similar sites around the world, some of which have been operating for three decades with no overdose deaths.
Laura Thomas, director of harm reduction policy with the AIDS Foundation said her organization has been talking to the health department about possible locations for a site, even a mobile possibility.
“Unlike the governor, I’m determined to save lives however I can, so we’ll keep moving forward,” Thomas said.
With the opioid crisis in the U.S. reaching unprecedented and shocking numbers – 100,000 overdose deaths over 12 months – federal health officials announced in February that they are considering alternative approaches to deal with the disastrous health crisis. To that end, the Justice Department signaled it might consider safe drug consumption sites, and look at “appropriate guardrails.
Photo: Courtesy of Miguel Bruna via Unsplash
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