On Monday, August 22, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill which would have legalized safe drug consumption sites in major cities in California.
From a public health and “harm reduction” point of view, these sites, called “safe consumption sites,” are an extremely effective tool to help save lives and mitigate the worst effects of the current opioid crisis that is ravaging the United States. In San Francisco alone – one of the cities targeted in the proposed legislation – 650 people died of accidental overdoses in 2021.
These sites provide people a place to safely consume opioids with sterile needles to prevent HIV/hepatitis C transmission. They also help to prevent overdoses by supervising people as they consume opioids and have drugs on site such as NARCAN that can save lives by stopping overdoses as they happen.
In addition to this, the sites are also focused on helping people overcome their addictions by offering services to refer them to support programs.
These sites have been very successful at reducing overdose deaths. New York City, for example, began operating safe consumption sites in November 2021 and has since prevented 300 potentially fatal overdoses. Peer-reviewed research has also documented that in Europe, Canada, and Australia, such facilities have existed for decades and have had similarly positive results.
Most overdoses from addiction can be understood as “deaths of despair.” Not all of us suffer from things like houselessness, extreme depression or risk of suicide or overdose, but most of us know people who experience these problems.
These sites in no way eliminate these root causes of drug addiction and overdose that are produced by capitalism, but they are an effective tool to reduce the worst effects of this crisis. In vetoing this legislation, Governor Newsom is reinforcing the false idea that drug addiction is an individual problem that individuals have to solve. These crises are produced by a system that prioritizes profit above all else, which in turn creates a social reality that includes houselessness and a population experiencing alienation, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that stem from living a precarious existence.
It appears Newsom could be doing this in anticipation of a presidential run in 2024, not wanting to give the Republicans ammunition to attack him in a presidential campaign by saying he supports drug use and crime.
Regardless of his motivations, this is yet another example of a capitalist politician carrying out a policy that views many people as disposable and not worth supporting with reasonable health care.