Pubdate: Thu, 07 Apr 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Jenna Chandler


A lawmaker from Stockton wants California to take a radical approach 
to prevent overdose deaths: Give users a clean place and medical 
supervision to shoot up.

Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman has introduced a 
bill that would allow local health departments such as the OC Health 
Care Agency to set up "supervised consumption services" in their 
communities, typically places where people bring in drugs they bought 
on the streets and safely ride out their high while monitored by nurses.

"I know when you first hear about it, it's like, 'What? You're 
condoning drug use.' No, we're acknowledging people are dying on the 
streets," Eggman said Tuesday at the Assembly's public safety 
committee hearing in Sacramento. "In the U.S., we have chosen to 
treat addiction from a criminal perspective. It's high time we start 
treating it like a public health issue."

The committee is expected to vote on Assembly Bill 2495 within the 
next couple of weeks, a spokesman for the assemblywoman said.

If approved, the concept is likely to be controversial here. County 
supervisor Andrew Do said Eggman's approach "coddle(s) criminals."

"Drug addicts won't get the treatment they need to straighten out 
their lives if they can shoot up at their neighborhood heroin hangout 
without fear of punishment," he said. "State-sanctioned drug dens are 
dangerous public policy that threatens Orange County's safety."

One of the main objectives of a safe injection site is to give 
addicts access to treatment. Above the injecting rooms at Insite, a 
supervised injection facility in Vancouver that opened in 2003, are 
private bathrooms and mental health workers, counselors, nurses and 
doctors to help with detoxing, and transitional housing and resources 
for users seeking to get clean.

Insite is one of nearly 100 safe injection sites in 66 cities 
worldwide, according to the Drug Policy Alliance; they have operated 
in Europe for more than three decades. There are none in the U.S., 
but movements are underway to open facilities in Seattle and New York City.

Nurses at such sites drain and bandage abscess wounds and teach users 
safe ways to inject. Staffers hand out sterile injection supplies and 
condoms. They also test for diseases common among drug users who use 
and share contaminated needles. Research has shown the sites help 
keep users out of crowded hospital emergency rooms, lead to treatment 
and thwart overdose deaths.

"It took me a long time to get my head around this," said Canadian 
Sen. Larry Campbell, who has become a champion of the model. "This is 
not condoning drug use in any shape or form. We've had 2,000 
injections since 2003, and not a single person has died."

In that time, Orange County's drug overdose death rate has soared, 
climbing by 61 percent from 2000 to 2012, according to Health Care 
Agency reports. Nearly 400 people died here from drug overdoses last 
year, according to coroner data.

But local officials have been slow to embrace a public health 
approach to the crisis.

There wasn't a needle exchange program in Orange County until 
February. Before it launched, state health officer Dr. Karen Smith 
said there was "significantly less access to sterile syringes in 
Orange County than in other California counties of comparable size."

A grass-roots approach by two moms also has led to the first program 
to distribute naloxone, a fast-acting, easy-to-administer antidote 
for opioid overdoses.

Denise Cullen said she used to give her son, who died after 
overdosing on Xanax and morphine in 2008, clean needles left over 
from a medical condition because she feared he'd contract hepatitis C or HIV.

"We have injection facilities already - they're called the bathrooms 
of McDonald's, gas stations. It's not clean and safe. If they 
overdose, there's no one to help them. What do they do with all the 
syringes? It becomes litter - dangerous litter.

"If there was a safe injection facility here, I'd be driving (my son) 
to it," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom