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Gov. Brown vetoes San Francisco’s safe injection bill [Update]

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San Francisco mayor and lawmakers praised proposed law as potential solution to chronic needle hazard—the governor didn’t agree

chill room at Safer Inside, an injection site model
The chill room at Safer Inside, a realistic model of a safe injection site in San Francisco. The model is an example of a supervised, indoor location where intravenous drug users can consume drugs in safer conditions and access treatment and recovery services.
Photo by AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Update 10-1-2018: On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed AB 186. In the veto statement, Brown wrote, “I do not believe that enabling illegal drug use in government sponsored injection centers [...] will reduce drug addiction.”

Brown also faulted the bill for not requiring treatment and for flouting federal law even while trying to confer immunity to state law.

In response, Mayor London Breed, who has supported the injection site plan and has facilities picked out in SF, said in a Sunday statement, “Safe injection sites save lives. If we are going to prevent overdoses and connect people to services and treatment [...] we need safe injection sites.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco criticized Brown for bowing to federal pressure, saying, “We should not allow threats from a backward federal government stop us from helping people who are dying on our streets.”

Wiener added, “We are definitely not giving up,” raising the possibility that the proposal may return under the next governor.

Update 8-28-2-18: On Monday, the California State Assembly passed the final version of AB 186 on a 42-30 vote, clearing the way to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk and likely signing into law.

The pilot program will be the first in the nation of its kind, and City Hall is hoping it will curtail health crises both long opiod users themselves and the general public.

On Tuesday morning, Mayor London Breed hailed AB 186’s passage with a statement saying, “We are in a public health crisis and this bill will help us by preventing overdoses while connecting people to medical care that can help treat their addiction.”

On Monday the California State Senate passed a bill that would allow San Francisco to operate safe injection sites for IV drug users as part of a three-year pilot program, which Mayor London Breed and other SF policymakers hope will help solve the city’s chronic problem with discarded needles and syringes.

Stockton Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman wrote the bill, AB 186, in early 2017. It’s since been amended to apply specifically to San Francisco, and State Senator and former SF lawmaker Scott Wiener came on as co-sponsor.

The bill reads in part:

Existing law makes it a crime to visit or be in any room where specified controlled substances are being unlawfully used with knowledge that the activity is occurring, or to open or maintain a place for the purpose of giving away or using specified controlled substances.

[...] The bill would exempt a person from existing criminal sanctions solely for actions or conduct on the site of a safer drug consumption services program for adults authorized by the city and county.

“Should we keep trying what has failed for decades or give San Francisco the choice to try something that we know saves lives, reduces disease, and saves money?” Eggman said in a Monday press release.

In a separate statement Monday afternoon, SF Mayor London Breed said, “I am committed to opening one of these sites here in San Francisco, no matter what it takes, because the status quo is not acceptable,” citing the pilot as a way to potentially cut down on open drug use and discarded needles on the streets and on BART.

An empty corridor at Civic Center Station.
Drug use and needles at Civic Center Station has made international news this year. An estimated 85 percent of IV drug users in the city say they would use a safe injection site if available.
Photo by Pi/Wikicommons

SF Director of Health Barbara Garcia estimated in 2017 that San Francisco has about 22,000 intravenous drug users, about one per every 38.49 residents based on a rough 2016 population of 846,816.

The city also hands out approximately 400,000 syringes per month as part of its needle exchange program but only gets about 60 percent of them back.

It’s anybody’s guess where the rest go, but odds are many end up as part of the debris in gutters and on buses that residents must be vigilant to avoid. Needles used at proposed safe sites would be collected as a matter of course.

AB 186 passed the Senate on a 26-18 vote on Monday. Previously, the Assembly passed it on a 41-33 cote in 2017. The bill still needs Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, at which point it will go into effect in January 2019.