Bill permitting limited supervised drug consumption programs passes Assembly

Friday, June 2, 2017

SACRAMENTO – A bill by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman to allow cities and counties in California to authorize supervised drug consumption programs passed from the Assembly floor Thursday evening.

The bill’s passage made the state’s lower house the first legislative body in the U.S. to pass such a bill, which would allow local governments in eight California counties to permit the establishment of facilities where people could 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.

“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 Eggman, D – Stockton. “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.”

Sponsored by a broad coalition of drug treatment providers, HIV and hepatitis prevention groups, the Drug Policy Alliance and others, the bill would allow local governments in selected counties to voluntarily choose to permit safe consumption services, provides legal protections for the programs and participants. The counties included in the bill are Alameda, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco, San Joaquin and Santa Cruz. It also requires a report on the efficacy of the services, and expires in 2022, unless re-authorized by the legislature.

The bill squeaked through with the minimum of 41 votes, but with two Republicans voting for it.

“California is again leading the way, putting science and compassion ahead of fear and outdated stigma about drug use,” said Laura Thomas, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.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.”

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in California and nationwide. Public drug injection is associated with higher rates of overdose, transmission of infectious diseases including HIV & viral hepatitis, as well as a variety of other public health and safety risks.

Supervised consumption services are proven to be 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.  

The bill, if passed from the senate and signed by the governor, could be put to use soon. A task force was recently established in San Francisco 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.