(and getting a clue)
“Harm-reduction” advocates do little more than pass out drug supplies to the sick and dying.
Erica Sandberg September, 2020
San Francisco has a serious drug problem, particularly among its homeless population. Roughly 8,000 people live on the city’s sidewalks or in its alleyways, public parks, and playgrounds. People with needles in their arms and legs, holding glass pipes and lighters, are a regular sight. Users go limp in doorways and tents, or they career about, dazed and distraught, or angry and violent. Dealers selling heroin, Fentanyl, methamphetamine, and crack are ubiquitous.
So, too, are the advocates for “harm reduction,” which holds that widespread drug use should be accepted but its worst effects mitigated. Organizations such as the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Users Union, and even the Department of Public Health, in partnership with The DOPE Project, focus almost exclusively on “safe drug use.” In fact, the Drug Users Union’s goal is “to create a safe environment where people can use & enjoy drugs as well as receive services.” This attitude led to today’s humanitarian crisis: thousands of people living on San Francisco’s streets, languishing in an endless cycle of homelessness and addiction.
Every day of the week, nonprofits and churches such as Glide Memorial partner with the city to distribute drug use supplies to addicts at designated pick-up points. With an empty backpack, I visited three such spots recently in a single afternoon.
Through open doorways, friendly workers asked what I needed. They suggested items and eagerly gave me what asked for—needles (what size?), naloxone (do you know how to use it? Here, let me show you!), rubber tourniquets to pop my veins, little metal cookers for my dope, sharps containers, sheets of foil and straws for Fentanyl, and mounds of alcohol pads, gauze, and bandages. My backpack was soon bursting; I collected 170 needles.
Not one person asked if I was interested in treatment. No one discussed detox or gave me a flyer with listings for local 12-step meetings. No one inquired about my physical or psychological wellbeing. I could have anything I wanted—except for help getting off drugs.
The idea of harm reduction seems noble. Access to clean needles reduces diseases like hepatitis and HIV, and naloxone can bring overdosing people back from the brink of death. Carefully monitored methadone-maintenance programs can return individuals struggling with opiates to a more stable life.
Harm reduction has mutated from ameliorating the collateral negative effects of addiction to promoting drug use as a positive lifestyle choice. Yet the lives of San Francisco’s addicts clearly aren’t improving. They’re sicker, more numerous than ever, and dying in staggering numbers. The body count is rising from Fentanyl, the highly potent synthetic opioid that has become the substance of choice. Last year’s 441 overdose deaths represented a 70 percent increase, and 2020 will likely be another record-breaking year.
Still, true believers carry on, convinced that they’re doing right by helping addicts do more drugs. It’s an unconscionable position. All people deserve a chance to live free of the substances preventing them from a healthy, self-sufficient life. They need someone to say, “I believe in you; let me help you escape addiction,” not, “You’re a drug user, let me help you remain an addict.”
Question the self-described experts, though, and you’re dismissed as a rube, even as their grand experiment—the giant petri dish of San Francisco—is evidence that they’ve failed.
Condoning illegal drug use means accepting everything that accompanies the business: human trafficking, sexual exploitation, political corruption, and environmental disaster. Recognizing these connections is essential. It’s why we condemned the ivory trade and child labor. Why do we now give a nod to illegal drugs that perpetuate some of the worst crimes known to man?
We can change course and focus on recovery. Options exist. The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center gives homeless individuals and families a place to stay while they pursue sobriety; the San Francisco Adult Probation Department’s reentry division gives newly released prisoners up to a year in residential drug-treatment programs. It’s time to invest in organizations like Community First Village in Austin, Texas, which recognizes that possession of controlled substances is illegal and provides permanent housing to the chronically homeless—with a work requirement. Residents are expected to abide by the law and take advantage of on-site rehabilitation and counseling. Such organizations give more to those they help by expecting more of them.
Drug addicts need a lifeline, not a millstone. For those who doubt that it’s time to push back against harm-reduction advocates who do little more than throw fresh needles, fentanyl foil, and meth pipes at the sick and dying, I have a suggestion: come to San Francisco and have a look around.
Anti-drug laws were always meant to be a vehicle to protect Community, family and our most important asset, children, from the harms caused by permission models that ‘grown ups’ believe they have the right to exercise around the use of psychotropic toxins.
These protective laws have not been used in any real punitive context for years.
It’s time we tasked these protective laws again in their most proactive framework – As the ‘Judicial Educator’.
The law used (not in a punitive context) but as with Problem Solving Courts, to facilitate not only exit from drug use, but entrance into productive, safe, health and community benefiting narratives, that are drug free. You don’t have to change laws, but you can task that legislation to facilitate rehabilitation and recovery, as is being done more and more to great success.
The pro-drug lobbies completely fallacious meme of ‘war on drugs has failed’ only has traction for the uniformed. There has been now ‘war on drugs’ in this nation since 1985. However, the ever growing ‘war FOR drugs’ continues to look to remove genuine tools that can bring best-practice drug use exiting outcomes, by mislabelling and propagandizing.
The Judicial educator is the perfect bookend for the other bookend of health and education. Together these will see, not further ‘permission’ for drug use and the ensuing uptake that always precipitates, but rather, as with Tobacco, a community with One Voice, Once Message and One Focus – the cessation of humanity, dignity, agency and family devastating drug use. That should be the agenda of all drug use reduction vehicles. The excising of any vehicle that can assist with that proactive and productive end, is not only non-sense, it is only adding to the harms that drug use does to our communities.
Once psychotropic toxins are an intrenched part of the behavioural mechanisms of an individual, whether it be short-term intoxication, or long-term dependency, the risk to health, safety and well-being of that individual and more concerningly, those around them requires more than a ‘doctor’ for change. Secure welfare engaged for rehabilitation continues to prove the safest and healthiest vehicle to assist that change.
We seem to care more for Tobacco users, than illicit drug users – Don’t the latter deserve the same passionate enabling to exit drug use, with no voice of permission or approval in the marketplace?
Rather there must be a thorough enabling, equipping and empowering of drug users to exit drug use, even more importantly before the inevitable dependency takes hold.
Any permission model – decriminalisation, legalisation or depenalization – does not add to that capacity of drug users to move out of drug use. However, it has and will continue to do so, if the only proactively coercive vehicle – The Law – is removed, further normalizing drug use.
“Overall, the research consistently finds that sexual victimisation is associated with problem alcohol and other drug use. While earlier work established the association, more recent research has shown that child sexual abuse, in particular, is a general risk factor for problem substance use.”
Harms of Prescription Opioids – TGA is finally starting the Fix!
Governments have now quantified just some of the short and long term harms of misuse of prescription opioids, particularly in the OST (Opioid Substitute Treatment) Arena. It is way past time to look at evidence-based and successful drug-use exiting recovery therapies.
“Compared to many, my childhood was a cakewalk. Because your childhood beat you around and left you in pain doesn’t mean that you’ll continue the cycle. Let your hurt be the source of your greatest compassion, the deepest love and understanding. You can do anything.
Walk through it, don’t numb or hide.
It’s been twenty-eight years since I stopped drugs and dedicated myself to a spiritual path, but those hard drugs I did, the heroin, cocaine, and meth, they hurt me bad, it took a long time to really recovery from ‘em. I hope for you that you don’t waste your energy there.
Even the Weed. Man, I was way too damn young for that Shit, it made growing up a more difficult challenge that it needed to be. For years and years, I made the mistake of trying to run away, before I learned to surrender, accept my pain as a blessing, trust in the love, and let it change me.”
Acid for the Children, ‘Flea’ – Bassist and co-founder Red Hot Chilli Peppers