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Calif. Dem Touts Drug Room to Curb Overdoses

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Hoping to prevent heroin and other drug overdoses, a California lawmaker has proposed the creation of supervised clinics where addicts can use hard drugs legally and safely.

Assembly Bill 2495 was introduced Tuesday by state Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, and it would allow state and local departments to open up "medical intervention programs" to reduce death and disease caused by street-drug use.

While the clinics would not provide drugs, addicts would be able to use narcotics such as heroin and crack cocaine without fear of being arrested.

Similar proposals are being considered in San Francisco and New York. Supervised clinics have been operating in Canada and Europe for decades.

Proponents claim the sites prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases by giving addicts a safe place to use, and cut down on drug overdose deaths. The clinics are staffed with supervisors and medical staff and people are able to use, off the street and away from the public eye.

"AB2495 will be a crucial first step in addressing drug overdoses in the U.S.," Eggman tweeted after a committee hearing Tuesday.

Eggman's bill has already garnered opposition from law enforcement groups including the California State Sheriffs' Association and the California Narcotics Officers' Association, who feel the clinics would send the wrong message regarding drug use.

A committee vote on AB2495 has already been postponed and Eggman's office could not confirm when the bill will be heard next.

The contentious proposal comes amid a recent string of California overdoses of the synthetic opiate fentanyl. State officials have attributed 42 overdoses and 10 deaths in the Sacramento area over the last two weeks to the powerful drug, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced a nationwide alert last year on the dangers of the pain reliever.

The overdose outbreak has spurred state lawmakers to advance a measure that would increase penalties on fentanyl dealers. Under the bill - which has passed its first committee - fentanyl would be added to a list that includes heroin and cocaine for which prosecutors can seek longer sentences for convicted dealers.

Former Vancouver mayor and current Canadian senator Larry Campbell established North America's first drug-injection site in 2003 and joined Eggman at a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol. The self-described moderate centrist is credited with championing drug-reform policy and curbing Vancouver's heroin epidemic while serving as mayor from 2002 to 2005.

The first clinic opened in Switzerland in 1986 and there are 88 facilities operating worldwide, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

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