Los Angeles Times

Don’t call them ‘drug dens’


California legislator­s did a brave thing last week when they approved a proposal to allow three California cities — including Los Angeles — to open facilities where addicts can self-administer illicit drugs without fear of arrest or a fatal overdose.

It was brave because these so-called safe drug consumptio­n sites aren’t strictly legal under federal law and are very controvers­ial, even in liberal California. Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a proposal passed by the Legislatur­e four years ago, even as deaths from accidental overdoses were skyrocketi­ng in the United States and such sites have been used successful­ly by other countries for more than three decades.

Now the fate of Senate Bill 57 is in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is being lobbied by Republican state lawmakers to veto the bill. In a letter, GOP state senators referred to the sites as “drug dens” and said they would worsen the drug problem.

It’s a ridiculous assertion, as well as meanspirit­ed. These aren’t smoky, dirty flophouses where people experiment with illicit drugs, but sterile healthcare facilities with trained staff, hygienic medical equipment and naloxone, a medication that can stop overdoses. Also, this isn’t a mandate. The bill simply allows local authoritie­s to decide to open these facilities on a trial basis through 2028. Didn’t the GOP previously support local control?

What those senators are really asking is for the governor to turn his back on the thousands of California­ns, many of them young, who are dying from preventabl­e overdoses.

About 10,000 people died in California from drug overdoses in 2021. Many of the deaths involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has been flooding the illicit drug market and is so potent a small amount can cause death in minutes.

Among the ways these facilities can help drug users is by providing test strips that can detect fentanyl in street drugs. It’s impossible to know if some of those lost lives might have been saved if a safe consumptio­n site had been available nearby, but it’s certainly a possibilit­y. New York City opened two safe drug consumptio­n sites late last year — the first in the nation — and have prevented at least 390 overdoses so far, according to Mayor Eric Adams.

Republican­s say it would be better to expand state-supported substance abuse treatment (if Republican lawmakers return next year with a bill to fund more drug treatment programs, good for them).

But even if there were enough programs available now for every person with a substance abuse problem, it can take many rounds of treatment to get drug-free.

It’s illogical to oppose solutions that can help keep these people alive until they are able to get treatment and that help communitie­s grappling with drug use in parks, on sidewalks and in other public places. (By the way, one good place to distribute informatio­n about access to substance abuse programs is at safe drug consumptio­n sites.) We would hope Newsom has the compassion — and the courage — to do the humane thing and sign the bill.

These aren’t smoky, dirty flophouses, but sterile healthcare facilities with trained staff, hygienic medical equipment and naloxone to prevent overdoses.

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