Supervised injection sites would allow drug users to safely dispose of sharps. Currently, many needles end up discarded on the streets. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

A bill on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would allow Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to operate facilities where drug users could consume controlled substances in a supervised environment.

These kinds of “safe injection sites,” which have been used in other cities for decades, have been shown in multiple studies to reduce the number of people who overdose on substances like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine, while also helping prevent the spread of diseases like hepatitis and HIV.

Harm reduction advocates in the Bay Area have been advocating for setting up safe injection sites for years. Senate Bill 57 was authored by state Senator Scott Wiener (San Francisco). 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told The Oaklandside that she’s excited the bill passed. “I’ll text the governor to sign it,” she said on Tuesday.

Although Schaaf is termed out of office and won’t be mayor next year, she said she hopes the city moves forward with safe injection sites—if Newsom approves. “They save lives and help people transition from addiction,” she said.

Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb also approved of the legislation but added that if Newsom signs it into law, he hopes the state or Alameda County  will also throw in funding to help Oakland run safe injection sites.

The safe injection sites that would be authorized under the law would likely be operated by nonprofits and staffed with trained personnel who could prevent and treat overdoses. The centers would provide drug users with a hygenic space and clean supplies to consume controlled substances. Anyone using the sites would be provided referrals to substance abuse treatment services and medical care, including HIV and viral hepatitis prevention, education, testing, and treatment.

There were 191 fatal overdoses of opioid drugs in Alameda County in 2021, according to the state Department of Public Health’s overdose dashboard. And there were hundreds more non-fatal overdoses where drug users, first responders, and health workers administered Narcan, a medication that can be used in emergency situations to treat opioid overdoses.

Sen. Wiener introduced similar legislation to permit safe injection sites in prior years, and the legislature approved a version in 2018, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown who felt that there wasn’t enough emphasis on addiction treatment.
Oakland officials have consistently shown support for harm reduction programs, including safe injection sites. In 2019, Schaaf and City Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas sponsored a resolution supporting a bill that would have allowed San Francisco to operate supervised injection sites, and they called on the legislature to amend the legislation to include Oakland.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.