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Safe Injection Sites For Drug Use Could Soon Be Legal In California

A person in a dark sweater holds a skinny syringe with a light brown liquid inside. In the other hand is a small shiny gold cap.
Gov. Gavin Newsom will decide whether the state will be allowed to loosen prohibitions on safe injection sites.
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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A bill allowing drug users to safely inject themselves at supervised facilities has passed the state Senate and is awaiting Governor Gavin Newsom's signature.

Senate Bill 57 would allow Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco to run pilot overdose prevention programs for the next six years. It would also require them to report back on the effectiveness and community impact of their programs.

The sites would be equipped with staff, sterile supplies, and referrals to substance use treatment programs. Site staff would also be trained to administer drugs like naloxone in the event of an overdose.

Ricky Bluthenthal, a professor of public health sciences at USC, said fentanyl now dominates the illicit drug market in L.A., and that interventions like this could help to prevent more fatalities.

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"When we engage with the population and make available to them the resources they need to take care of themselves, they use them as designed and have been very successful. So this is just the next iteration in that effort to give them the things they need,” said Bluthenthal.

Around 10,000 people died from overdoses in California between October 2020 and September 2021, according to the California Department of Public Health. Half of those deaths were attributed to fentanyl.

“This legislation isn’t about whether we want people to use drugs,” Sen. Scott Wiener, who authored the bill, said in a press release. “Rather, it’s an acknowledgment that people are using drugs, and our choice is whether we want to make every effort to help them survive and get healthy.”

Opponents argue that the sites will be ineffective and increase drug use and illegal activity in the surrounding areas.

"Safe’ injection sites are not a panacea for our burgeoning drug crisis, they are a symbol of California’s self-inflicted decline,” Joshua Hoover, a candidate running for California State Assembly District 7, posted on Twitter.

If Newsom signs, California would follow in the footsteps of Rhode Island, which has legalized supervised injection sites in the state, and New York City, which earlier this year opened the first sites in the country.

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Corrected August 5, 2022 at 3:14 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled Ricky Bluthenthal's last name. LAist regrets the error.