A bill that would allow supervised use of illicit narcotics at California health facilities passed major legislative hurdles this week and is headed for a vote in the full state Assembly.
It's “the first ever state bill on supervised consumption services (SCS) to win legislative votes in the U.S.,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which is supporting AB 186 by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman of Stockton. The proposal, which focuses on injected drugs but would allow any drug use to be supervised by legitimate medical care agencies, is supported by a number of L.A.-based groups, including AIDS Project Los Angeles Health, Homeless Healthcare L.A. and the Los Angeles Overdose Task Force.
While government-blessed supervision of drug use sounds surreal, backers say the practice saves lives by ensuring clean needles are used and overdoses are treated immediately. Participants could also receive drug counseling and other services.
“Research has shown that SCS do not encourage additional drug use or increase crime in the surrounding area, and potentially save millions of dollars in health care and incarceration costs,” according to a fact sheet from Eggman's office.
Clean needles, of course, can prevent HIV and hepatitis from spreading, particularly in vulnerable communities like homeless encampments. Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, says not one overdose death has been reported in similar programs outside the United States.
She pointed to the results at Vancouver's InSite supervised consumption program, where participants were 30 percent more likely to seek help quitting than non-participants: “I certainly acknowledge that this can seem counterintuitive, but these programs have become an effective route out of problematic substance abuse.”
The bill would allow local governments to approve such programs. The legislation does not provide taxpayer money for supervised consumption services. Participants would have to be at least 18. And the law would expire in 2022.
“This is a huge step toward establishing a more effective, treatment-focused approach to drug addiction and abuse in California,” Eggman said via email. “Virtually everyone knows and accepts by now that we can’t arrest our way of an opioid addiction epidemic. Admitting that is the easy part. The hard part is having the political courage to try new treatment models.”