US politics may soon catch up with the science of overdose prevention – Orange County Register


The War on Drugs, like other culture wars, often seems intractable and divisive. However, there has been greater agreement between the GOP and Democrats in recent years on support for overdose prevention and drug treatment services. Both the Biden and Trump administrations have increased investments in drug treatment, with a focus on physician-assisted therapy, including methadone and buprenorphine.

Additionally, a bipartisan agreement has led to greater availability of the opioid antidote naloxone, which, if given in time, can restore breathing and prevent death. Research has proven that lay people with connections to opioid users, especially addicts themselves, can effectively administer the life-saving antidote.

There is, however, a practical next step that would reduce death, disease and suffering, which risks being treated like a political football.

Overdose Prevention Centers (OPCs) are programs that allow addicts to use pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of staff trained to deal with overdose episodes. Typically, a person checks in, is given sterile equipment and a clean, hygienic surface to sit on, and they use it without haste. Then they are offered a place to rest and recuperate, while staff maintain a watchful eye. If someone experiences an overdose or other side effects, staff can step in and treat them. Staff also use this time to counsel participants on other services, including addiction treatment.

These programs have existed for more than 30 years in Europe, Australia and Canada, and extensive research has proven that they prevent drug overdose deaths and help people enter drug treatment. Research also shows that they reduce public drug use, reduce needle waste and have no negative impact on crime. Where there was an observed change in crime was a reduction in property crimes, such as car burglaries.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has embraced the public health and public safety benefits of OPC. In November of last year, two OPCs opened in Manhattan. Since then, they have overseen nearly 30,000 separate drug uses and intervened in 390 life-threatening overdoses. Earlier this month, Mayor Adams, the former NYPD police captain, said, “Overdose prevention centers keep neighborhoods and people struggling with drug addiction safe. Now is the time to expand access to OPCs and do it equitably across New York City.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell also gets it. He and his nonprofit foundation supported the opening of a program in Philadelphia. However, Trump’s Justice Department filed a lawsuit to stop it from opening, claiming it violated federal drug laws.

Former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and seven other state attorneys general pushed back against Trump’s action, joining an amicus brief saying such programs are designed to prevent death and disease and do not contribute to the crime. Becerra is now Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Biden.

The American Medical Association and other health policy organizations have filed their own amicus in support of the Philadelphia program, which remains in legal limbo. All the while, people are dying needlessly.

Rhode Island lawmakers voted to allow OPCs, and Governor Daniel McKee signed a bill in 2021 to pilot and evaluate programs there. They are now accepting applications from community health programs.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California has the option to sign or veto a bill supported by most California lawmakers. It is narrowly designed and will provide local governments with a five-year window to pilot and evaluate programs in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco. Elected leaders in those jurisdictions support the bill, as do major drug treatment associations in the state.

The bill was opposed by Republicans, however, and former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill sponsored by treatment associations in 2018. The spotlight is now on Governor Newsom, who took a tough swipe at conservatives for its insistence on following the science. on vaccination and his first stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Science has become politicized in the United States, but facts are still facts. The number one cause of accidental death in the United States is drug overdose, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a red or blue state, or who your parents voted for. Of the ten states with the highest rates of overdose deaths, five are “red” and five are “blue.”

Overdose prevention centers have been proven to save lives and improve the overall safety of the communities they serve. We hope Governor Newsom, like Mayor Adams and dozens of other elected leaders across the country, will take the life-saving small step of testing this approach here in the United States.

Glenn Backes is a Sacramento-based public policy consultant with a master’s degree in public health and social work. He got his start in harm reduction in the late 1980s and is part of ACT-UP New York, delivering syringes to homeless encampments in violation of state laws. Needle access laws have finally caught up with the science of disease prevention.


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