SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a multistate amicus brief in support of Safehouse, a non-profit healthcare entity working to open the nation’s first safe injection site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Safe injection sites are legally sanctioned public health facilities that reduce overdose deaths and increase access to substance abuse treatment by providing a safe, sanitary space for people with substance abuse disorders. They work to reduce overdose and drug-related deaths in our communities by increasing access to medical intervention and rehabilitation resources. U.S. v. Safehouse is the nation’s first lawsuit concerning the legality of safe injection sites. In the brief, the coalition argues that safe injection sites provide an important tool for states to combat the opioid epidemic and protect public health.
“The opioid epidemic has devastated communities throughout our nation. Safe injection sites aim to increase public health and safety by providing comprehensive services to victims of the opioid epidemic, while reducing the public nuisance of drug use in public spaces,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Safe injection sites like Safehouse are an innovative tool to combat the opioid epidemic and drug dependency while reducing overdose death and transmission of diseases. California has always been a trailblazer, and we’re committed to doing what it takes to keep our communities healthy and safe.”
Safe injection sites are designed to improve public health by providing sanitary supplies for people to inject pre-obtained drugs. This helps prevent needle sharing that can lead to the transmission of disease. They also reduce deaths associated with drug use. All injections performed at these sites are observed by healthcare professionals who are trained in overdose recognition and reversal. Healthcare professionals must administer naloxone or other overdose reversal medication in the event of an overdose. Patients are also provided referrals to substance use disorder treatment and educational materials.
Communities across California have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, and deaths from fentanyl use increased by 60 percent between 2017 and 2018. Overdoses from fentanyl occur much more rapidly than overdoses from other opioids, requiring more rapid administration of overdose-reversal medication in order to prevent death. Safe injection sites would allow for the rapid administration of this lifesaving medication.
While safe injection sites have been established in other countries, there are currently none open in the United States. In Australia, a safe injection site has intervened in 4,400 overdoses and made 9,500 referrals to health and social welfare resources. In Canada, safe injection sites intervened in 221 overdoses in 2010 alone. Thirty peer-reviewed articles have confirmed that safe injection sites in Canada have reduced deaths from overdose and have had no adverse impacts to surrounding areas. Numerous studies from other countries report that no deaths have occurred at safe injection sites.
The California legislature is currently considering a bill to legalize safe injection sites (AB 362). AB 362 would authorize safe injection sites to open in San Francisco city and county according to specific criteria. These criteria require, among other things, that patients be supervised by healthcare professionals who will administer treatment to prevent fatal overdoses and provide referrals to medical services, including substance use disorder treatment. AB 362 is currently in the Senate Health Committee. On June 23, 2020, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass legislation that would allow safe injection sites to open in San Francisco.
A copy of the brief can be found here.