August 22, 2022

By Don Sapatkin

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today’s the last day for Governor Gavin Newsom to decide whether to let three California cities set up sites where drug users can inject themselves under care and supervision in an effort to reduce soaring overdose deaths. Plus: Advice on whether and how to approach someone who appears deeply distressed in public. And sleep pods on campus let college students take power naps.

Gavin Newsom’s injection-site conundrum

Photo: Shutterstock

During his 2018 campaign for governor, California’s Gavin Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was “very, very open” to a pilot program that would set up a place for intravenous drug users to safely inject themselves, using clean needles in the presence of health care workers who could revive them in the event of an overdose. Mayor London Breed had proposed the idea, and the state legislature had approved it – but then-Gov. Jerry Brown wielded his veto pen and killed it. 

Now the issue has come back to the governor’s desk. Three weeks ago, the legislature passed Senate Bill 57 to authorize the broadest such experiment in the U.S. If Newsom signs the bill, San Francisco, Los Angeles County and Oakland will be allowed to open centers where drug users can inject in a supervised environment and staff can intervene. The state would study the sites over a five-year period to see if they reduce overdose deaths, which increased 72% nationally in the three years from March 2019 to March 2022, according to a MindSite News analysis of CDC data.

It will be a tough decision, the New York Times reports, because Newsom, who is heavily favored to win reelection in November, is widely seen as having presidential ambitions. The Trump administration rejected supervised drug-use sites and sued Philadelphia to prevent it from opening one. New York City opened the only sites in this country less than a year ago. And while some Canadian and European cities have had them for decades, they remain a hot-button issue for conservatives. “I feel like Gavin Newsom is the most and least likely governor in America to sign this bill,” said Jessica Levinson, a political analyst who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “Most likely in the sense that he likes to be ahead of the curve. But if he signs this, the ads kind of write themselves: He becomes ‘Governor Heroin.’ ” 

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How to help someone having a breakdown in public

Someone is having an emotional breakdown on the sidewalk, perhaps crying uncontrollably and oblivious to their surroundings. What should you do?

“It is OK to approach them and ask them if they are OK and how you can help them,” psychologist Doreen Marshall of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention told Salon. People experiencing public mental health episodes are often frightened and unsure where to turn for help, she said, and they need compassion. 

Be mindful not to overwhelm. “Only one person should be speaking to that person,” said Kelly Abreu, a mental health worker at the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital in Massachusetts. “And it should be in a tone that they can understand. Not fast. You can’t be abrupt. You just need to ask them ‘What’s going on? Is there anything I can help you with?’ “

Passers-bye often feel uncomfortable and avoid someone who is visibly disconnected from reality. But a person in distress is far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. Calling the police can escalate the situation. Telling them to calm down may not help either, as the episode is not due to conscious choices. It could be drug-induced or even the result of a medical crisis due to high blood pressure or diabetes. “Get to know the problem they are having before dealing with it. A lot of folks just need someone to listen to them,” said Deshonda Copeland, a senior residential unit specialist at Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. 

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In other news…

Photo courtesy of the University of Akron

The University of Akron announced the installation of four “nap pods” on campus, a response to growing evidence that lack of sleep can be harmful to young people’s mental health. Designed to help students take 20-minute refresher naps, the pods feature a darkness-and-privacy visor, reclining seats, adjustable light settings and music that is supposed to induce sleep, although students can use their own sounds via Bluetooth. has more on the story.

Mental health crisis calls in Philadelphia spiked by 37% the first week after the new 988 national hotline launched in mid-July, then settled back for an overall 5% increase during the first full month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. That initial surge – largely in line with the national average – was likely the result of people trying to confirm that “somebody’s actually picking up the line” they’ve been hearing about, said Dale Adair, chief psychiatric officer at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...