Gavin Newsom’s next political test is an injection sites bill

LOS ANGELES — Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, has not been shy about testing his power to advance progressive causes, most notably in 2004 when, as mayor of San Francisco, he allowed gay marriage same-sex defying a voter-approved vote. prohibition

His fellow Democrats in the state legislature have now sent him a bill that would allow the nation’s largest experiment with supervised drug injection sites, hoping to reduce a deluge of opioid overdoses. Local governments serving more than 11 million residents, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, could authorize centers that offer clean needles and have staff who can quickly intervene when an overdose occurs.

But it is not clear whether Mr. Newsom will allow the bill to become law, and his impending decision is being watched closely as a barometer of his national ambitions. Opponents of the law have argued that the proposal goes too far in normalizing the use of illicit drugs.

“I think Gavin Newsom is the least likely governor in America to sign this bill, most likely in the sense that he likes to be ahead of the curve,” said Jessica Levinson, a political analyst who teaches at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “But if he signs this, the announcements write themselves: He becomes ‘Governor Heroine.'”

Mr. Newsom is running for re-election and is heavily favored to win after fending off a recall attempt last year, while Republicans are more focused this fall on competitive midterm congressional elections in state that in the governor’s race. The favorable momentum has given him more license to turn his attention elsewhere.

He sparked presidential speculation this summer when he bought ads in Florida and Texas criticizing Republican governors there over gun and abortion laws. he disputed this week on Twitter with another Republican, Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama. (Mr. Newsom’s targets have responded by pointing to California’s recent population decline.)

While Mr. Newsom may be feeling the gravitational pull of Washington politics, bill-signing season will keep him busy at home for weeks to come. Other bills will also test him, such as the proposal to strictly regulate the fast food industry, but none may prove to be as difficult a political decision as the supervised injection site proposal.

The office of Mr. Newsom did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

New York City opened the nation’s first supervised drug injection sites in November, and other US cities from Seattle to Philadelphia have plans to follow suit. But California’s law would make the nation’s most populous state home to a large-scale experiment with the sites over the next five years.

The legislation would allow three cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland) and Los Angeles County to open facilities where people can use illegal drugs in a supervised environment. Participants could receive supplies such as clean needles and be connected to treatment services. Crucially, trained staff would be able to watch for signs of overdose and be able to intervene. The state would study the sites, which could remain open until 2027 as part of an overdose prevention pilot program.

When Mr. Newsom campaigned for governor in 2018, he said was “very, very open” to an injection site pilot project, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. But he has not indicated his position on the current bill.

California has seen other places take the lead on the issue. In 2018, the predecessor of Mr. Newsom and fellow Democrat Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill, saying they didn’t believe licensed injection sites would reduce drug use without a treatment requirement. California cities need state legislation to protect drug users and medical professionals from places of criminal law.

Fentanyl Overdoses: What You Need to Know

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Fentanyl Overdoses: What You Need to Know

Understand the effects of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a powerful and fast-acting drug, two qualities that also make it highly addictive. A little goes a long way, so it’s easy to overdose. With fentanyl, there is only a short period of time to intervene and save a person’s life during an overdose.

Fentanyl Overdoses: What You Need to Know

Go to authorized pharmacies. Prescription drugs sold online or by unlicensed dealers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax are often combined with fentanyl. Only take pills that have been prescribed by your doctor and come from an authorized pharmacy.

Fentanyl Overdoses: What You Need to Know

Talk to your loved ones. The best way to avoid using fentanyl is to educate your loved ones, including teenagers, about it. Explain what fentanyl is and that it can be found in pills bought online or from friends. Try to establish an ongoing dialogue in short bursts rather than a long, formal conversation.

Fentanyl Overdoses: What You Need to Know

Learn how to spot an overdose. When someone overdoses on fentanyl, their breathing slows and their skin often turns bluish. If you think someone is overdosing, call 911 right away. If you’re concerned that a loved one may be exposed to fentanyl, you may want to buy naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose and is often available at local pharmacies without a prescription.

Mr Brown wrote in his veto message that “allowing the use of illegal and destructive drugs will never work” and that the proposal was “all carrot and no stick”.

But some volunteers who work with drug users see this approach as crucial to saving lives. On the sun-drenched streets of Skid Row, home to Los Angeles’ most destitute residents, Soma Snakeoil pulled a folding wagon over the encampments.

“Needles! Pipes! Clothes!” he shouted to the residents, many of them drug users who have struggled with addiction and homelessness for years or decades. “Water!”

Then, as some people approached, she offered, “Narcan?” He held out white boxes filled with the nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses, while his colleague cycled past, stopping to staple Narcan packets to trees.

Ms. Snakeoil, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Sidewalk Project, which helps people living on the streets, said Mr. Newsom had a unique opportunity to respond to drug overdoses by signing the bill on his desk.

“We’re really on the front lines here,” said Ms. Snakeoil, an activist, artist and sex worker.

“I’ve made a lot of investments,” he added, referring to reviving overdose users with Narcan or another method, “but I’ve also seen people die in the middle of an overdose response, because we went too far late..”

The Republicans of the State Legislature urged Mr. Newsom vetoed the latest bill, saying it would effectively create government-sanctioned “drug rings” and could leave workers vulnerable to federal prosecution. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Justice sued a Philadelphia nonprofit over a plan to open a supervised injection site; Biden administration officials are now discussing a deal of the dress

Tom Wolf, co-founder of the California Coalition for Peace, a nonpartisan group of people in recovery and families of current and former drug users, said cities in California, and cities across the country, lacked strong systems that include transitional housing. and mandatory treatment that are needed to make long-term supervised sites effective.

From powerful pharmaceuticals to illegal synthetics, opioids are fueling a deadly drug crisis in America.

For a time, several years ago, Mr. Wolf was severely addicted to opioids and living on the streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. He said he had seen conditions deteriorate further since then, with drug deals essentially taking place out in the open.

“In Los Angeles and San Francisco and Oakland, the situation is out of control,” he said. “What prevents an open drug scene from populating around the place of safe consumption?”

State law enforcement groups have also opposed California’s proposal. In a statement, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who heads Los Angeles County’s law enforcement agency, said safe drinking spots would “wreak havoc on our communities.”

Advocates say that while supervised injection sites are not a silver bullet, it is clear that law enforcement has not been able to stop the flow of illicit drugs into communities and that forcing people to receive treatment does not work.

Sam Rivera, the chief executive of OnPoint, which operates the New York consumption sites, said since the centers opened, staff members have responded to more than 400 overdoses and called 911 five times. for other health emergencies. He estimated that the initiative had saved taxpayers about $12 million that would have been spent on ambulance rides and emergency room treatment. But he said the potential monetary savings were a secondary purpose.

Mr. Newsom, he said, “literally has the power to save thousands of lives in California.”

In San Francisco, overdoses killed more than twice as many people as the coronavirus in 2020. The squalor and open drug use in the Tenderloin have become synonymous with the crisis on the West Coast.

In Los Angeles County, overdoses killed 773 more people in 2020 than in 2019, an increase of nearly 47 percent. Among the homeless, overdoses were the leading cause an increase of 78 percent in deaths in the year following the start of the pandemic, according to a study by the county’s Department of Public Health. Overdoses have remained the leading cause of death among the homeless in the county.

“When you look at the trajectory, the lines are not leveling off,” said Gary Tsai, director of substance abuse prevention and control for the county’s public health department.

Service providers say a deadly mix of fentanyl, opioids and methamphetamine is contributing to a frightening rise in overdoses. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and drug cartels use it as a filler because it can be made cheaply with chemicals. People often don’t realize their drugs are contaminated with the substance, causing them to overdose quickly.

On Los Angeles’ Skid Row, Snakeoil greeted Gene Calmese, who recently moved into his own place indoors after years of living on the streets nearby. He handed her a pack of Narcan to keep in case she saw someone who needed it.

Mr. Calmese stood on a bike lane looking out over the community where he still felt at home. He estimated that he had helped revive 10 to 15 people who had overdosed.

“I’m tired of this,” he said.

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