Numerous drug policy experts and addictions specialists from across the country — as close as UCSF and as far away as Rhode Island — publicly oppose a San Francisco ballot measure that would compel adult welfare recipients to undergo drug screening before collecting cash benefits.
And efforts to publicize the measure have brought practitioners who don’t always agree about addiction treatment practices to the same side of the debate.
Spanish-language programming at San Francisco’s County Jail has since become virtually non-existent as routine lockdowns caused by staff shortages have made it practically impossible to hold classes. Even while deputies work mandatory 16-hour shifts, there aren’t enough of them to escort people who administer rehabilitation sessions and other training programs into the jails.
On Feb. 2, numerous social service providers for the Latinx incarcerated population implored the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board during its monthly meeting to help them gain access to the jail.
Proposition F asks voters whether the city should be allowed to screen single adult welfare recipients for drug dependency and require those identified as suffering from substance use disorder to enter treatment to continue receiving cash assistance through the County Adult Assistance Program.
Last Thursday San Francisco’s chief medical examiner released the city’s updated overdose death count — 752 so far — making 2023 the worst year on record for drug-related fatalities. One-third of those people were listed as having no fixed address. Later that day, a crowd gathered at Civic Center Plaza to remember more than 420 who died in the city while experiencing homelessness this year.
Experts in overdose prevention say many teen and adult lives could be saved if more people know how to identify and respond to overdoses. In San Francisco, an array of programs are providing overdose response training to teenagers, college and medical-school students, and residents in neighborhoods that have a high rate of overdose deaths.
Two children who were violently removed from their grandmother’s Santa Cruz home in October 2022 and placed into a court-ordered program to recant parental abuse allegations celebrated a victory last month when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill prohibiting such programs.
On Oct. 13, Maya, 16, and Sebastian Laing, 12, and their allies celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 331, aka Piqui’s Law, which prohibits California family court judges from forcing kids into so-called reunification camps and ensures that judges and those serving as expert witnesses undergo critical training on domestic violence and child custody.
Several weeks after a crucial legal hurdle blocking safe consumption sites in San Francisco was seemingly resolved, proponents said they were dismayed that city leaders and public health officials were still not greenlighting centers that could reduce deaths related to drug use.
Overdose deaths have reached 620 this year — on track to have the highest annual tally since counting began, with fentanyl causing the vast majority of fatalities, according to the chief medical examiner’s latest report.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has criticized and diminished the use of diversion programs that offer criminal defendants accused of selling drugs rehabilitation, counseling and training rather than jail sentences.
Since taking office 15 months ago, Jenkins has reduced the number of referrals to the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project by 70%, according to its CEO David Mauroff.
And as San Francisco’s rate of overdose fatalities reaches more than two deaths a day, Jenkins is pushing for defendants accused of selling drugs to remain in jail. But some legal experts say that’s a bad strategy both for the defendants and for public safety.
A drug crackdown in the Tenderloin and South of Market has resulted in more than 600 arrests, with authorities seizing more than 200 pounds of fentanyl since the initiative launched in May, Mayor London Breed said.
But the coordinated effort, involving city and state law enforcement agents, appears to be leading to violent clashes, said Supervisor Dean Preston, whose district includes the Tenderloin. “They’re poking a hornet’s nest,” he said in an interview.
An anonymous poster campaign calling out judges who dropped charges against people accused of selling fentanyl is getting strong pushback from San Francisco legal professionals.
“This is just wildly inappropriate,” said Kirk Jenkins, Senior Counsel at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer. “You could cause violence against judges.”