Late last night California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 186 which would have allowed San Francisco to open overdose prevention services that would let drug users 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, authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and co-authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) passed the California Assembly and Senate earlier this year.
“I am shocked that the Governor turned his back on the science and the experts and instead used outdated drug war ideology to justify his veto,” said Laura Thomas, Interim State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “He cited long-disproven ideas about substance use in his veto message rationale. It’s disturbing that Governor Brown apparently believes these myths about the need for coercive treatment and even more disturbing that people will die because of his veto. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in California. How many people have to die before Governor Brown is willing to listen to the science and evidence and experience? How many families have to lose a loved one?”
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, and is the leading cause of death for people under 50 in the US. 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 historic bill was sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives (CAADPE), California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), Harm Reduction Coalition, Project Inform, and Tarzana Treatment Center. The state’s leading treatment organizations and providers supported the bill, along with HIV and hepatitis advocates.
Overdose prevention services or 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. The bill would have allowed the City and County of San Francisco to open such services and provide legal protections for the programs and participants. It created a pilot program and required a report on the efficacy of the services.
There is broad support in San Francisco for opening these programs. The Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, plus the elected law enforcement officers – the Sheriff and the District Attorney – supported AB 186. Groups ranging from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and SF Travel to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, St. Anthony’s Foundation, and Glide Foundation support opening such services. Public support polled at 66% earlier this year. Mayor London Breed has said that she will move forward with opening these services.
“Project Inform is incredibly disappointed in Governor Brown’s decision to veto AB186,” said Andrew Reynolds, Project Inform's Hepatitis C and Harm Reduction Manager. “The veto, and the stigmatizing language he uses in his explanation for his decision, represent an archaic, failed approach to drug use that dates back to Richard Nixon’s rationale for starting the war on drugs. Far from “enslaving” or “enabling” drug use, overdose prevention sites are proven, evidence-based interventions that save lives, prevent HIV and HCV infections, and create opportunities for medical care and social services. People will die and Californians will suffer because of his decision.”