California Moves Forward With Bill To Establish Test Program For Drug Injection Sites
Drugs Addiction equipment - stock photo Injection on the floor - selective focus sanjeri via Getty Images
sanjeri via Getty Images

California is moving forward with a bill that would establish a test program for drug injection sites where people would use drugs under supervision.

On Wednesday, California lawmakers advanced the legislation, and the entire Assembly will now contemplate whether or not to permit the test initiatives in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco. Over a year ago, the measure barely passed the state Senate. Members of the Assembly Public Safety Committee moved it forward in a 5-2 vote after listening to different accounts and data about the situations in Europe, Australia, Canada, and two recent locations in New York City.

The state would be “creating an enabling program that enables people to continue to do what is very damaging and destructive, not only to themselves but to the public at large,” Republican Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto said.

“We know that we are experiencing a crisis of overdose deaths, and these are preventable,” Democratic Senator Scott Wiener said. “This is one way to help keep people safe and to actually help people get into treatment.”

Wiener and others who are in favor of the legislation claimed that there have been no overdose deaths in the supervised drug locations. Those who are against such a program say that people still die near the sites, as they want to come to areas where the use of drugs is essentially government-sponsored.

“There is a magnet effect so that people come into the area,” John Lovell, who provided testimony for the California Narcotic Officers’ Association and multiple other police groups, said.

The objective, Seyarto said, should be to “get them off of drugs and get them out of this dependency” instead of permitting it.

“What they’re proposing is addiction maintenance,” Michael Shellenberger, who has a background in homelessness issues and is running for governor, said. “…I think that we need to embrace addiction recovery.”

If the bill is passed, each of the California governments have requested to be part of the test run of the program, and they could then decide whether or not to go forward with it and how much. The programs would continue until 2028, and the governments that are part of the initiative would divide the cost of an outside study on how well it worked and how it affected the community, which would be due by 2027.

The connection between drug addiction and homelessness has been a tragic issue in many of California’s major cities.

In March, the University of California San Francisco pointed to a study noting that homeless deaths doubled during the first year of the pandemic in San Francisco, primarily from drug overdoses. The study looked at the deaths of homeless people between mid-March of 2020 to mid-March of 2021, comparing the numbers to deaths every year from 2016 to 2019.

The study found that 82% of homeless deaths were connected to drug overdoses during the first year of the pandemic. The percentage has steadily increased since the group started collecting data. It was at 34% in 2016 and 2017, 56% in 2018, and 72% in 2019.

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