Bi-partisan Support for AB 186 to Prevent Drug Overdose Deaths in California
Late Thursday evening, the California State Assembly became the first legislative body in the U.S. to pass a bill to permit safe consumption services that would allow drug users to use controlled substances under the supervision of staff trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing and other services.
AB 186 by Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) passed with bipartisan support, 41-33. This historic bill sponsored by drug treatment providers, HIV and hepatitis prevention groups, the Drug Policy Alliance and others, puts California at the forefront of the national momentum towards opening supervised consumption services (SCS) in the U.S. The bill would allow local jurisdictions to choose to permit SCS and provide legal protections for the programs and participants. It creates a pilot program, allowing a limited number of jurisdictions to operate the services, and requires a report on the efficacy of the services. It now goes to the state Senate.
Supervised consumption services are proven harm reduction services that are effective at linking people who use drugs to treatment and other services, reducing overdose deaths, preventing transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and reducing street-based drug use and syringe disposal. Research has shown that people who access these programs are more likely to enter treatment and more likely to stop using drugs. Support is growing rapidly across the country for these services in the face of dramatic increases in drug overdose deaths. Similar legislation has been introduced in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York, and Seattle, WA is in the process of opening sites.
“California is blazing a new trail toward a policy on drug addiction and abuse that treats it as the medical issue and public health challenge that it is, and not as a moral failing," said Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman. "We are in the midst of an epidemic, and this bill will grant us another tool to fight it – to provide better access to services like treatment and counseling, to better protect public health and safety, and to save lives.”
“California is again leading the way, putting science and compassion ahead of fear and outdated stigma about drug use,” said Laura Thomas, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Assemblymember Eggman is a national leader for a commonsense approach to drug use that would help prevent thousands of Californians from losing loved ones to drug overdose.”
Emalie Huriaux, Director of Federal & State Affairs for Project Inform and Chair of the California Hepatitis Alliance said, “The Assembly’s vote is a clear signal that California is ready to stop stigmatizing and criminalizing people who use drugs and to start addressing drug use as a public health issue. As an organization that works to end the HIV and hepatitis C epidemics, Project Inform is proud to co-sponsor AB 186 because we know SCS are a compassionate and scientifically proven strategy that will help us reach our goal.”
“Harm Reduction Coalition applauds the leadership of the California State Assembly, which yesterday voted to approve passage of AB 186, a bill that would authorize communities to establish safe consumption spaces for people who use drugs. As overdose rates show no sign of slowing across the country, we need to consider bold, evidence-based public health interventions,” said Monique Tula, executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
Al Senella, CEO of Tarzana Treatment Centers, a co-sponsor described this as “an important move, signaling a recognition that these services can aid in the reduction of drug overdose deaths, reduce the spread of communicable diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV, and provide an opportunity for health care professionals to promote treatment and other health services to those suffering from the disease of addiction.” He added, “As the president and CEO of Tarzana Treatment Centers I would like extend our deep appreciation to Assemblymember Eggman and the full Assembly for the passage of AB 186.”
David Kan, MD, DFASAM, President Elect of the California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), praised the Assembly action saying, “California’s Assemblymembers who voted for AB 186 voted to save lives and create a new innovative avenue into treatment in the face of ignorance and fear. This bravery is reminiscent of the first needle exchange bills pioneered by former Congresswoman Diane Watson when she was chair of the California Senate Committee on Health.”
CAADPE, the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, said “Approval of AB 186 recognizes opioid and heroin use as a community, public safety and health issue. CAADPE has long advocated use of all available tools to create paths to health care and substance use treatment. Safe consumption spaces, a well-documented, evidence-based strategy, will add to the tool kit by creating another path to treatment and overdose prevention.”
The negative health and social consequences of drug use remain staggeringly high in California, despite strong investment in treatment and prevention. 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 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.
This bill, if passed, could be put to use soon. San Francisco just created a task force to review the issue and develop policy recommendations for the Mayor and Board of Supervisors. The task force’s report is expected in September.
AB 186 is co-sponsored by California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives (CAADPE), California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), DPA, Harm Reduction Coalition, Project Inform, and Tarzana Treatment Center.