California Assembly Approves Bill That Would Create Legal Drug Injection Sites In Los Angeles, Bay Area

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Assembly on Thursday approved a controversial bill allowing Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco to create places where opioid users could legally inject drugs in supervised settings.

The move follows more than a year of legislative review, with supporters saying it would save lives and critics saying it would promote drug addiction.

Assembly approval sends the bill back to the state Senate for final consideration in August, after lawmakers return from a month-long summer recess. Senators approved a slightly different version more than a year ago, with no votes to spare.

The idea is to give people who would use drugs anyway a place to inject them while trained staff are available to help them in the event of an accidental overdose.

The move comes amid a national opioid crisis and a spike in overdose deaths, particularly if users inadvertently ingest drugs fortified with fentanyl.

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New York City opened the first two publicly recognized overdose prevention sites in the United States in December, responding to more than 150 overdoses, though its operation lacks federal approval to operate. Rhode Island has approved testing of these centers for two years.

The US Department of Justice under the Biden administration recently signaled it may be open to allowing sites with “appropriate guardrails”, a U-turn from the Trump administration that won a lawsuit blocking a consumer site safe in Philadelphia.

The measure was adopted by the Assembly by 42 votes against 28, one vote more than necessary.

But there was bipartisan opposition amid sometimes personal debate. Two members, Carlos Villapudua and Freddie Rodriguez, revealed that their brothers each died of drug-related complications and were among the Democrats who spoke out against the proposal.

“It’s not the only thing that’s going to stop the fentanyl or opioid epidemic in our state, but it will help. It will help and it will save lives,” said Democratic Assemblyman Matt Haney, a former San Francisco supervisor who represented the troubled Tenderloin neighborhood and passed the bill in the Assembly.

But some members of each party said the sites only made matters worse, as lawmakers cited dueling statistics from locations in other countries.

“Sending our kids the message ‘Hey, we’re going to help you deal with your addiction’ isn’t the answer,” said GOP Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto.

About 700 San Franciscans died from accidental drug overdoses in 2020, a record high. Those deaths “far exceeded the number of people who died from COVID-19” in 2020, when 261 coronavirus deaths were recorded, San Francisco Mayor London Breed noted. She cited skyrocketing drug overdose rates in her emergency declaration in the Tenderloin neighborhood.

Los Angeles County was on the verge of having 1,000 opioid deaths last year, although not all of those deaths were from injections.

Across the country, drug overdose deaths exceeded 100,000 from April 2020 to April 2021, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including about 10,000 Californians.

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