California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill that would have allowed three major cities in the state to open supervised drug injection sites, which have been shown to decrease the number of overdoses in places that have implemented them.
Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 57 just hours before it would have automatically become law. In a statement, Newsom called for the state Department of Health and Human Services, working alongside city and county officials, to review other practices for preventing overdoses, particularly those related to the opioid crisis. He also recognized that it was “possible that these sites would help improve the safety and health of our urban areas,” but disagreed with the bill’s substance, stating that, “without a strong plan, [drug injection sites] could work against this purpose.”
Democratic colleagues in the state legislature are criticizing Newsom’s decision to veto the bill.
“California lost a huge opportunity to address one of our most deadly problems: The dramatic escalation in drug overdose deaths,” wrote state Sen. Scott Weiner, a Democrat from San Francisco. “By rejecting a proven and extensively studied strategy to save lives and get people into treatment, this veto sends a powerful negative message that California is not committed to harm reduction.”
Some have also accused Newsom of acting out of self-interest rather than in the best interests of California residents. The governor may be thinking of a future run for president, some believe, and he may have vetoed the legislation over fears that its passage could have been used against him.
“Governor Newsom would rather run for president in 2024 than save lives in our state,” said Brandon Weaver, who works in the communications office of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “People will literally die because of this rejection of a strategy that’s proven to save lives as people continue to OD on our streets.”
“We are incredibly disappointed and heartbroken that Governor Newsom has put his own political ambitions ahead of saving thousands of lives and vetoed this critical legislation,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
“We don’t need additional processes. What we need is action. Without action, people are going to die,” Zanipatin added.
The issue is a serious one for the entire country, as the U.S. recorded more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths last year. In California, more than 10,000 residents died of a drug overdose from March 2021 to March 2022.
Several cities in recent years have considered similar proposals to what Senate Bill 57 would have allowed. Conservative pundits and politicians, however, are vehemently opposed to supervised drug injection sites, believing they encourage drug use and bring crime to nearby areas. And, as demonstrated by Newsom’s vote, many liberals are also not supportive of these proven public health measures.
Such concerns, however, are not based in reality. A study of drug injection centers in Alberta, Canada, contradicted a government report that wrongly said crime had gone up because of them, and a 2014 review of 75 different studies found there was no increase in drug use due to cities instituting injection sites.
Such sites do an amazing job at preventing deaths. New York City, for example, opened the nation’s first sanctioned supervised injection facility last year, and of 5,849 injections, staff there were able to treat 123 potentially fatal overdoses, resulting in zero deaths overall.
Beyond injection sites providing a safe means for those afflicted with addiction to use drugs in a supervised manner, such centers also provide a way for those who utilize them to find pathways to treatment.
“Moral or ideological objections to supervised consumption fall apart when we acknowledge the implications for people’s actual lives,” wrote journalist Travis Lupick for Truthout. “At a supervised injection site, users have better control over what they put into their bodies. They have autonomy, and are treated with respect.”