Businessman and 2020 hopeful Andrew Yang says that, if he is elected president, he plans to invest in safe opioid injection sites and to decriminalize opiates for personal use.
“I would not only decriminalize opiates for personal use, but I would also invest in safe consumption sites around the country,” he said in an interview with Hill.TV published Tuesday.
Yang argued that “the reality on the ground” is that those who are addicted struggle to get help because opioids are illegal in the U.S. and they have “no place” to go.
“I was talking to a paramedic in New Hampshire who talked about if you saved an addict one week, you’d be back saving that same addict the following week because after you’re caught with a drug, there’s no place for you to go,” Yang said.
“You go home and you’re still addicted and you wind up in many cases overdosing again,” he continued. “So we need to refer these people to counseling, treatment and safe consumption sites as needed.”
Those who support "safe consumption sites" say they would save lives by minimizing risk of overdose, whereas opponents argue that the sites normalize drug use and make it easier for the addict to consume said drugs.
California recently approved a bill to start a six-year pilot program to create "safe injection sites" in San Francisco. Other states such as Pennsylvania are considering such programs.
Among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Yang and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg have voiced their support for decriminalizing the personal use of opiates.
Radical as it may be, Yang is not alone in his support for "safe consumption sites." Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have both expressed support for “harm reduction” measures such as needle exchanges and supervised consumption sites.
President Trump declared a national public health emergency over the opioid epidemic in 2017 and unveiled his “Stop Opioid Abuse” initiative in March 2018 which includes measures to prevent over-prescription, research for other therapies to use instead of prescribing pain killers, and expanded access to treatments. In November, he donated his third-quarter salary to fighting the opioid crisis.