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Safe Injections Sites Bill fails to pass in Senate

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HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Calif. - Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed Humboldt County to legally operate safe consumption sites where substance users would have access to sterile supplies, needle disposal, overdose treatment, and rehab, has fallen two votes short of the 21 needed to pass the bill.

The bill would have allowed Humboldt County, in addition to five other counties, to have the legal safe consumption sites for a four year period. The bill outlines requirements for the sites such as providing sterile consumption supplies, overdose treatment, and rehabilitation referral.

The bill was not voted on again before the end of the legislative session, however, the bill was voted to be reconsidered next year.

In Humboldt County, safe consumption sites have been a controversial topic. Meredith Williams is a board member for the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction and an advocate of safe consumption sites.

"Nobody wants to have the issues of, let's say needles on the ground," said Williams. "When you drive something underground and treat it as shameful, that's why needles end up on the ground."

Williams said she believes this is just one of many issues that safe consumption sites would address.

"If you actually had a safe place where people could consume, that wouldn't happen anymore," she said.

Government records show that North Coast Senator, Mike McGuire, voted to pass the bill. This led to many locals calling, emailing, and even showing up at his local office. Judy Sousa was one of those people asking him to change his vote if the bill were to be read again.

"There's no way to safely consume illegal substances, even if it's tested for purity and potency, you're still injecting raid, red lye, and phosphorous," Sousa said.

Sousa said that while she believes in rehabilitation, she thinks the bill leaves many issues unaddressed.

"Where are we going to put this thing?" Sousa said. "There's no guarantee that people will go there. There's no guarantee that staff won't get injured, there's no guarantee that someone won't overdose, and the county won't get sued. You can't predict human behavior."

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there are nine countries in the world that allow safe consumption sites. Williams said this inspires her to support the legalization of safe consumption sites.

"I went to a safe consumption site in the Netherlands, and what I saw was incredible because they treat people like whole human beings," Williams said. "When people have social bonds, when they have the community, the people who need help the most actually open up."

Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, the author of the bill, said in a statement on September 15, "Tonight I decided with my dedicated coauthors, Assemblymember Laura Friedman and Senators Scott Wiener and Ricardo Lara, that I would not bring Assembly Bill 186 up for another vote prior to the end of session."

Eggman added, "We have made incredible progress on this life-saving policy, from not getting a vote in policy committee last year all the way to the Senate floor. While I am disappointed that the bill will not pass at this time, I am committed to finding a way forward next year. The opioid epidemic continues and new solutions are desperately needed."

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