Speakers Include Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, Former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer and Mayor of Vancouver Who Established First Supervised Consumption Facility in North America
Bill Creates a Public Health Response to California’s Overdose Crisis; Allows Cities to Provide A Safe and Supervised Space for People Who Use Drugs
Tuesday, April 5, the California Assembly Public Safety Committee will hold a legislative hearing on AB 2495 (Eggman) to permit localities to establish supervised consumption services (SCS), which allow individuals to consume controlled substances in a safe space, provide sterile equipment, and connect patients to treatment, medical care, and other social services.
“This bill will give public health officials the tools and greater flexibility to address the number one cause of accidental death in our state — drug overdose,” said Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman. “These deaths are entirely preventable and supervised consumption services have saved lives and improved public safety in the cities around the globe. It’s well past time that California cities and counties have the freedom to authorize these programs if they so choose.”
Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in California and nationwide, killing more people than motor vehicle accidents. Public drug injection is associated with higher rates of overdose, transmission of infectious diseases including HIV & viral hepatitis, as well as a variety of nuisance and safety issues. The negative health and social consequences of drug use remain staggeringly high in California, despite strong investment in treatment and prevention. The SCS in Vancouver, Insite, reduced fatal drug overdoses in the area around it by a third. It also dramatically reduced public drug injection in the area and syringe litter.
“It’s time for California to use all the effective public health tools we can to reduce overdose deaths. Communities struggling to address the harms related to substance use should have the ability to use this evidence-based intervention,” said Laura Thomas, deputy state director, Drug Policy Alliance. “The Drug Policy Alliance is proud to be sponsoring this bill and moving the conversation forward.”
Speaking on the bill will be Canadian Senator Larry Campbell. Senator Campbell was the mayor of Vancouver when that city decided to open a SCS. He had previously been a narcotics officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and is now a strong supporter of supervised consumption programs. His experience as the Coroner of Vancouver was turned into a successful TV series called DaVinci’s Inquest. Senator Campbell is also a member of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Board of Directors.
AB 2495, introduced by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), takes a public health approach to the harms created by drug use in this state. It would allow communities to choose to offer supervised consumption services to address local health and public safety concerns, including overdose, transmission of infectious diseases, public drug use, and improper disposal of syringes. It provides narrow exemptions to certain controlled substance laws for programs permitted by state or local health departments. Employees, volunteers, and clients of a SCS program allowed by state or local health departments would be exempt, under limited circumstances, from arrest, charge and prosecution for laws intended to punish possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, visiting a place where controlled substances are present, or maintaining a place where controlled substances are used. It is modeled after current California law, which authorizes sterile syringe access.
Al Senella, President and CEO of Tarzana Treatment Services said, “We support this bill because the evidence is clear that these programs are an effective link to substance use disorder treatment for many who wouldn’t get there otherwise. Research from Insite showed that it was a pathway to treatment and recovery for many, and reduced drug use in the community. Very similar to the tremendous success we have seen over the years in needle exchange programs. We should be able to offer this here in California.”
Supervised consumption services, also called supervised injection facilities or safer drug use facilities, provide a hygienic and safe space for people who use drugs to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff. Supervised consumption facilities reduce health and public order issues by targeting high-risk, socially marginalized drug users who would otherwise inject in public spaces, including on the street or in public restrooms.
Facility staff members do not directly assist in consumption or handle any drugs brought in by clients, but are present to provide sterile equipment and supplies, answer questions on safe consumption practices, administer first aid if needed, and monitor for overdose. Staff also offer general medical advice and referrals to drug treatment, medical treatment, and other social support programs.
There are approximately 100 such programs operating in 66 cities around the world in nine countries (Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, Australia, and Canada). Efforts are underway in several U.S. cities, including Seattle and New York City, to establish supervised consumption services.
Hundreds of evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies have proven that supervised consumption facilities reduce overdose deaths, do not encourage additional drug use, provide an entry to treatment and even abstinence, reduce risky injecting and transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B, improve public order by reducing discarded syringes and public injecting, reduce crime, and are cost-effective.
“Given the opiate crisis in the U.S. and California, and the clear connection to outbreaks of HIV and viral hepatitis, we must embrace evidence-based public health programs to end these epidemics. SCSs reach people who are at high risk for HIV, hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as people with a high burden of HIV and hepatitis C infections. Such facilities also have the potential to reduce the transmission of these diseases and prevent new infections by reaching people who otherwise do not engage with health and social services, offering a critical access point for prevention and education services, and linking people living with HIV and/or hepatitis C to health care and treatment," said Emalie Huriaux, Director of Federal and State Affairs for Project Inform.