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Historic Safer Consumption Services Bill Passes the California State Legislature


Photo © Drugreporter – Rights Reporter Foundation

For Immediate Release

Media contact: Charles Hawthorne, hawthorne [@] harmreduction.org

Yesterday evening, the California State Assembly passed Assembly Bill 186 (AB 186), legislation to authorize safer consumption services. These services would give people who use drugs a place to consume substances under the supervision of staff trained to prevent and reverse overdoses as well as provide linkages to other healthcare and social services. Passage of AB 186 marks a historic legislative victory for safer consumption spaces in the United States.

AB 186 is authored by Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton); after passage in the California State Senate last week, the bill returned to the State Assembly for concurrence, and passed by a 41-24 vote with bipartisan support. The amended bill allows San Francisco City and County to approve safer consumption services (also known as supervised injection facilities [SIFs] or overdose prevention sites), while providing legal protection to both the people operating the sites as well as those accessing services. Approved safer consumption services will operate as pilot programs through January 1, 2022, and provide annual reports to the city and county. AB 186 now heads to Governor Brown for his approval.

Safer consumption services (SCS) have strong research supporting their role in addressing overdose mortality, HIV and hepatitis C, and linkage to substance use treatment services. Support for these services has swelled across the country as overdose deaths have skyrocketed, and similar bills have been introduced in New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Seattle, Washington is in the process of opening their own safer consumption services.

“Passing this legislation will result in fewer HIV and hepatitis infections and prevent fatal overdose, but most importantly it sends the message to people who use drugs that California is committed to shifting from a criminal to a public health approach to drug use: it says you matter and we’re committed to supporting you to stay alive,” said Dr. Taeko Frost, Western Regional Director of Harm Reduction Coalition, who was among the statewide organizers to promote the passage of the bill.

In addition to the statewide organizing, local initiatives have aimed to promote awareness and community education in San Francisco in anticipation of these sites. Yes to SCS co-organizer and Capacity Building Services Coordinator at Harm Reduction Coalition Charles Hawthorne said, We hope that the positive impact that this bill will make in San Francisco will demonstrate that compassionate healthcare, new solutions, and community support are the keys to ending the overdose epidemic and creating a community in which we are all proud to live.”

Local organizations have been preparing for these services. “By allowing the City of San Francisco the right to choose to open Overdose Prevention Services, Sacramento is empowering our jurisdiction to implement a highly effective public health intervention that has enjoyed enormous success in Europe and in Canada,” said Paul Harkin, Harm Reduction Program Manager at Glide Foundation in San Francisco. “This is exactly the kind of programs that we will need to deal with the health crisis in our community for people who inject drugs.”

Participants of syringe access programs in San Francisco agree. Having a sterile environment to use drugs will reduce the rates of contracting diseases and infections. Having trained staff to check on people will decrease the rates of fatal overdoses. This is all knowledge that my participants and fellow harm reductionists already know,” said Rio Violetta of the San Francisco Drug Users’ Union. “AB 186 is a step in the right direction in treating people who use drugs with respect because they are people and I feel like that is often forgotten.”

While the latest amendments to the bill limited the establishment of SCS to San Francisco, advocates across the state voiced the need for SCS in their communities. Braunz Courtney of Oakland-based syringe service program HIV Education Prevention Project of Alameda County  said, “We’re awaiting to see San Francisco efforts in identifying SCS successes and challenges that will create best practices to be duplicated in the East Bay. SCS are projected to increase access to needed services for active users, which will have a healthier impact on their lives which direct or indirectly impact the lives of all community members affected by drug related harm.” Brandie Wilson, Executive Director of Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction (HACHR), stated, “Our Rural Community deserves the opportunity to have this life saving opportunity in our future. It has to start somewhere and however we need to get there, let’s do whatever it takes…. We would have loved the opportunity to support out community in this way and we will get there.”

The timeliness of this legislative victory cannot be overstated. Monique Tula, Executive Director at Harm Reduction Coalition said, “In the midst of the overdose crisis that continues to take toll on families across the state, the California legislature has shown tremendous leadership with their vote to support establishing supervised consumption spaces in San Francisco.”

For more information about how to get involved with statewide efforts to support SCS, visit yestoscscalifornia.org.




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