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Legal Injection Sites Could Soon Come to California, but Not Everyone is On Board

SACRAMENTO -- California may soon become the first state in the United States to allow drug addicts to use legally, in what are commonly called legal injection sites.

The locations would be staffed with medical professionals to prevent overdose deaths.

“People are going to shoot up whether or not we have these safe injection sites,” State Sen. Scott Wiener said. “The question is do you want them shooting up outside, in public spaces? Or in an indoor, clean, healthy space with access to services.”

Wiener, D-San Francisco, co-authored a bill to create a pilot program bringing legal injection sites to California.

Staffed with medical professionals, Wiener says the injection centers are more likely to prevent overdose deaths and help addicts beat their addictions.

“If you look at track records of safe injection sites around the world they’re hugely successful,” Wiener said.

One study from the US National Library of Medicine showed overdose deaths down 34 percent in Vancouver around injection sites there. Drug-related hospital visits and needle sharing were also down.

But not everyone’s on board.

“Enabling the addict,” Bishop Ron Allen said. “You’re saying to them, ‘Come and get high, and if you overdose we’re gonna help you.’”

For seven years, Bishop Allen was addicted to drugs. At his worst, a regular crack cocaine user.

Now an advocate for drug abuse prevention, he’s been lobbying against legal injection sites.

“No addict that has used for the day is looking for recovery,” he said. “Who’s going to supervise them when they leave? Who’s going to supervise them when they go back to their families? Who’s going to supervise them when they get behind the car driving high?”

And there are legal questions.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing California lawmakers for the idea, saying, “Expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action.”

There is a bill on Governor Brown’s desk now for a three-year pilot program to allow injection sites. Originally, it allowed them in six counties, including San Joaquin County. The bill has since been watered down.

If it’s signed into law, the first centers in San Francisco will likely open within a few months.