Aug 23, 2022 - Politics

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoes safe consumption bill

A hand holding fentanyl.
Photo credit: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday vetoed a bill to legalize safe drug consumption sites in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.

Why it matters: San Francisco is in the midst of a drug overdose epidemic, largely driven by the opioid fentanyl. While accidental overdose deaths were 7% lower in 2021 than in 2020, raw numbers remain high.

  • Last year, 650 people died of accidental overdoses, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Between January and June, the city counted 297 overdose deaths.

State of play: The safe consumption sites bill, authored by California Sen. Scott Wiener, passed in the state Senate earlier this month to allow SF, Oakland and LA to pilot the sites.

  • Safe consumption sites, or overdose prevention programs, are designed to provide sterile drug consumption supplies, referrals to treatment programs and trained staff to administer drugs to reverse an opioid overdose.
  • Proponents of safe consumption sites have argued they prevent overdose deaths, reduce the risk of HIV/hepatitis C transmission and result in less public drug use.
  • Opponents claimed "the unintended consequence of this bill is to normalize substance abuse."

What they're saying: "I have long supported the cutting edge of harm reduction strategies," Newsom wrote in a memo explaining his veto.

  • "However, I am acutely concerned about the operations of safe injection sites without strong, engaged local leadership and well-documented, vetted, and thoughtful operational and sustainability plans."
  • He added, "unintended consequences" of safe consumption sites "cannot be taken lightly."

The other side: Wiener called the veto "tragic" and said it "sends a powerful negative message that California is not committed to harm reduction."

  • "We don't need additional studies or working groups to determine whether safe consumption sites are effective," Wiener said. "We know from decades of experience and numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies that they work."

Zoom out: Europe, Canada and Australia have operated safe consumption sites for decades, and the 170+ working facilities have not recorded a single overdose death.

What to watch: Newsom said he's instructing the state secretary of health and human services to meet with city and county officials throughout California to "discuss minimum standards and best practices for safe and sustainable overdose prevention programs."

  • Newsom said he's open to local officials returning to the state Legislature with recommendations for a "truly limited pilot program — with comprehensive plans for siting, operations, community partnerships, and fiscal sustainability that demonstrate how these programs will be run safely and effectively."
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