“Saying Yes to Drug Addiction, One Drug Den at a Time,” is a clever title to a very serious problem. California Senate Republicans issued a press statement with this title Thursday over their concerns with Senate Bill 57 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). “California is in the midst of an unprecedented overdose crisis that must be treated as a public health crisis,” Wiener said. Senate Bill 57 passed the Senate by a vote of 21-11, and is headed to the Assembly.
Republicans said, “Senate Democrat colleagues are making it easier for drug addicts to consume hard drugs without addressing the root causes of addiction or protecting neighbors living near proposed ‘drug den’ locations. Senate Bill 57 allows California cities and counties to establish taxpayer-staffed and funded drug dens.”
SB 57, Called the “Overdose Prevention Program,” authored by Sen. Wiener, would authorize the City and County of San Francisco, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Oakland to approve entities to establish and operate overdose prevention programs (OPPs) until January 1, 2027. This bill requires OPPs to provide specified services, including supervision by trained staff and referrals for treatment.
The State Senate Republicans noted they are fighting to combat the deadly fentanyl epidemic, while their Senate Democrat colleagues appear to be normalizing substance abuse. “Missing from this bill are any strategies to appropriately utilize methadone alternatives, mandatory treatment protocols, onsite drug counseling, or even efforts to gradually wean an addict off the cycle of dependence,” bill analysis in opposition to SB 57 says.
“This is like giving a person struggling with alcoholism a gift card to BevMo. The Democrats are the party of enablers right now – and at taxpayer expense,” said Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita). “Instead of robust efforts to help drug addicts kick the habit, Senate Democrats are throwing everyone under the bus in a ‘feel good’ push to embrace the addict rather than help them get housed, healed, and back to productive life. There is zero consideration for the neighborhoods in which these sites will operate, the victims of crimes resulting from addicts roaming the streets, or the families of individuals struggling with addiction who are praying their loved one gets treatment rather than drugs.”
It is evident Sen. Wiener is concerned about drug addiction as well as the dramatic increase in drug overdoses just since 2019, attributable to the lockdown, however reaching a solution is where Wiener and others don’t see eye-to-eye.
Wiener said: “In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and in California, the already alarming rate of drug overdose is worsening. A recent study of Emergency Medical Services data in the Journal of the American Medical Association found overdose rates were doubled in May of 2020, compared to 2019. More than 40 states have documented increases in opioid overdoses since the beginning of shelter in place. OPPs, also called supervised consumption services, are a necessary intervention to prevent overdose deaths. Approximately 165 OPPs exist in ten countries, and have been rigorously researched and shown to reduce health and safety problems associated with drug use, including public drug use, discarded syringes, HIV and hepatitis infections, and overdose deaths.”
Here is Brown’s veto message:
“I conclude that the disadvantages of this bill far outweigh the possible benefits.
Fundamentally, I do not believe that enabling illegal drug use in government sponsored injection centers-with no corresponding requirement that the user undergo treatment-will reduce drug addiction.
In addition, although this bill creates immunity under state law, it can’t create such immunity under federal law. In fact, the United States Attorney General has already threatened prosecution and it would be irresponsible to expose local officials and health care professionals to potential federal criminal charges.
Our paramount goal must be to reduce the use of illegal drugs and opioids that daily enslaves human beings and wreaks havoc in our communities. California has never had enough drug treatment programs and does not have enough now. Residential, outpatient and case management-all are needed, voluntarily undertaken or coercively imposed by our courts. Both incentives and sanctions are needed. One without the other is futile.
There is no silver bullet, quick fix or piecemeal approach that will work. A comprehensive effort at the state and local level is required. Fortunately, under the Affordable Care Act, California now has federal money to support a much expanded system of care for the addicted. That’s the route we should follow: involving many parties and many elements in a thoroughly integrated undertaking.
I repeat, enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work. The community must have the authority and the laws to require compassionate but effective and mandatory treatment. AB 186 is all carrot and no stick.”
According to bill analysis, the co-sponsors of SB 57 are “largely health care providers and health and justice advocates:”
California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives (co-source), California Society of Addiction Medicine (co-source), Drug Policy Alliance (co-source) HealthRIGHT 360 (co-source), San Francisco AIDS Foundation (co-source), and Tarzana Treatment Centers (co-source).
Bill analysis states there is no fiscal impact to SB 57, which is hard to believe. If the the City and County of San Francisco, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Oakland approve entities to establish and operate overdose prevention programs, who pays for this?
The California District Attorneys Association said they believe the reasons cited by Governor Brown in his veto message are equally applicable to SB 57. “We particularly echo Governor Brown’s concern that ‘enabling illegal drug use in government sponsored injection centers – with no corresponding requirement that the user undergo treatment – will reduce drug addiction.'”
The CDAA also noted, “The recent study of injection sites completed last year by the Canadian Province of Alberta is instructive in assessing this policy. According to the study, the SB 57 injection sites have a magnet effect where addicts are drawn to the areas around the sites in the mistaken belief that use of the controlled substances in question are now legal. Consistent use of injection sites is very low, overdose deaths in the vicinity of the injection sites actually increase and COVID-19 risks are magnified.”
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