August 24, 2022

California/Hawaii Chapter Weighs in On Needed Responses to Monkeypox and Harm Reduction

Monkeypox: The California/Hawaii chapter joined other statewide groups in requesting that the governor and legislative leaders identify additional funding and resources for local public health departments, health care providers, community-based organizations, and affected individuals during the growing monkeypox virus (MPV) outbreak in California. On August 1, Gov. Newsom declared a State of Emergency – a critical step in accelerating the state’s efforts to address the current public health crisis and ensuring a coordinated response across the administration. However, with only two weeks left in the legislative session, further action is urgently needed to slow the current outbreak and prevent MPV from becoming further entrenched in California. Specifically, the Academy’s California/Hawaii chapter made the following requests:

  • $38.5 million in FY 2022-23 to support MPV response activities at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and local public health departments
  • Reimbursement for MPV vaccine administration
  • Paid leave and financial support for those in need of MPV testing and treatment, vaccination, and recovery
  • Continued prioritization of equity at every stage of the response
  • Use every tool available to ramp up pressure on the federal government to ensure that California receives an adequate supply of vaccines and guarantee access to MPV testing and treatment for free or at very low-cost.

The full letter can be viewed here.

Harm Reduction: The California/Hawaii chapter sent a letter to Gov. Newsom requesting that he sign into law S.B. 57 – a bill that would allow for the creation of a pilot program for overdose prevention programs throughout the state. The intention of the legislation is to reduce drug overdoses and other harms related to drug use – saving lives and improving the public health response to an ever-growing overdose crisis. The bill would give the City and County of San Francisco, City of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles, and the City of Oakland the ability to authorize pilots of overdose prevention programs to better address the increase in drug overdose deaths; facilitate the connection to substance use disorder treatment, housing, and other supporting services; and reduce the transmission of HIV and hepatitis. Such sites would be staffed by trained professionals who can also check drugs for the presence of fentanyl – further preventing unintended overdose and death. Overdose prevention programs have been shown to reduce health and safety problems associated with drug use, while making it more likely that users enter treatment and ultimately stop using drugs.

Last year, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to authorize a two-year pilot program to establish “harm reduction centers” where people can consume pre-obtained substances under the supervision of trained staff. In November 2021, New York City opened the nation’s first-ever government-sanctioned Overdose Prevention Centers (OPPs) in Harlem and Washington Heights. Since opening, as of July 17, 2022, the sites have supervised over 29,555 OPP utilizations and helped reverse 399 overdoses, and within a month of opening, the syringes count in the park near one of the safe injection sites dropped from 13,000 to 1,000. New York City has demonstrated that the operation of overdose prevention programs is possible. Early this year, the Biden Administration signaled their support for OPPs, stating that the federal government is evaluating these programs and “appropriate guardrails.”

Unfortunately, on Monday the governor vetoed the bill and in his veto message stated that while he supports harm reduction strategies, the bill would have allowed “unlimited” sites – hinting that there is not a system for ensuring long-term stability in such programs. Others have speculated that he would not have signed such a bill in an election year (his predecessor also vetoed a similar bill). Gov. Newsom did direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “convene city and county officials to discuss minimum standards and best practices for safe and sustainable overdose prevention programs” while saying he remains “open to this discussion when those local officials come back to the Legislature with recommendations for a truly limited pilot program – with comprehensive plans for siting, operations, community partnerships, and fiscal sustainability that demonstrate how these programs will be run safely and effectively.”

View the latest Policy Update here.