By Anika Khubchandani and Alex Klimenko
SACRAMENTO, CA – A State Senate measure here to provide a “safe place” for controlled substance use – designed to save lives and public monies – was put on hold here this week, postponed until the January session of the CA Legislature.
Senate Bill 57 involved the creation of “hygienic space to consume controlled substances” in the presence of staff qualified to “prevent and treat drug overdoses.”
Overdose deaths have recently increased “in May 2020, the increase was 42 percent compared to the prior year,” said bill proponents.
The intent of SB 57 is to “to prevent fatal and nonfatal drug overdoses, reduce drug use by providing a pathway to drug treatment, as well as medical and social services for high-risk drug users, many of whom are homeless, uninsured, or very low income, prevent the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, reduce nuisance and public safety problems related to public use of controlled substances, and reduce emergency room use and hospital utilization related to drug use, reserving precious space, including intensive care beds for treatment of COVID-19 and other life-threatening conditions.”
He “recently obtained $4.2 million in the state budget to fund a meth sobering center in San Francisco.” Wiener is also currently “authoring Senate Bill 110, which legalizes contingency management financial incentives for people to stop using meth and stay sober” and “Senate Bill 221 to ensure that people with mental health and substance use disorder needs receive timely access to care.”
The use of these spaces has been endorsed by the American Medical Association (AMA) “in an amicus brief supporting overdose prevention programs (OPPs) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” The AMA and others wrote that, “supervised consumption sites are an evidence-based medical and public health intervention with the potential to improve individual and community health.”
If passed, SB 57 may have important fiscal implications. “A proposed program in San Francisco would reduce government expenses associated with health care, emergency services, and crime, saving $2.33 for every dollar spent. It is estimated that one OPP would save the City and County of San Francisco $3,500,000 in other costs,” according to bill supporters.
Recently, SB 57 has been amended to include Los Angeles as pilot city in addition to the cities of Oakland and San Francisco. Considering “overdose deaths are an urgent public health crisis” that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic in major California cities, Wiener stresses how “safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people in recovery.
Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-2), the Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, has assured Senator Wiener that SB 57 will be heard in January. Despite being disheartened by the delay, Wiener is “deeply committed to this life-saving legislation.”