Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of Northern California, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and Other Organizations Urge the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to Vote ‘No’ and Instead Focus on Proven Public Health Solutions to the Overdose Crisis
San Francisco, CA – December 23, 2021 – In response to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voting today on Mayor’s Breed emergency declaration to increase police presence in the Tenderloin and force people who use drugs into Overdose Prevention Centers or be subject to arrest, ACLU of Northern California, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, Center for Living and Learning, Community Health Project LA (CHPLA), Drug Policy Alliance, National Harm Reduction Coalition, New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), and The Sidewalk Project released the following statements:
“While we strongly support San Francisco’s leadership in adopting Overdose Prevention Centers (OPC) to address the overdose crisis, we cannot do it in a way that increases law enforcement presence and subjects people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness, immigrants, and other residents of the Tenderloin to discriminatory searches and arrests. This flies in the face of OPC principles, which is to build trust with these communities and serve as a bridge for health and behavioral services. We call upon Mayor Breed to rethink her approach and work with residents, people with lived experience and organizations working on the ground in the Tenderloin to develop a coordinated public health response to curb overdose deaths and offer people on the street a way out without criminalizing them.” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director at the Drug Policy Alliance.
For more than fifty years, the U.S. has been criminalizing people for using drugs. Yet, overdose has not decreased. In fact, it’s skyrocketing. Forcing people to choose between treatment or arrest is no choice at all. Incarceration is linked with increased mortality from overdose. In the first two weeks after their release from prison individuals are almost 13 times more likely to die than the general population, mostly due to overdose. In prison, people die due to overdose at high rates and treatment or medications for substance use disorder are rarely available. From 2001 to 2018, the number of people who have died of drug or alcohol intoxication in state prisons increased by more than 600%.
Overdose Prevention Centers (OPCs) are essential, but alone are not going to address all the social determinants of health that lead to problematic drug use. Health starts where people live, learn, work, and play. Not having a home, experiencing homelessness, experiencing abuse, surviving trauma, systemic racism, not making a livable wage all contribute to problematic drug use. While OPCs can keep people who use drugs safer and alive while navigating social inequalities, we still need to invest in housing, in livable wages, and in better access to health care.
Zanipatin continued: “People in the Tenderloin need systemic changes that address the structural drivers that force them to the streets, like housing, employment, food security, and health care. What we currently see in the Tenderloin didn’t happen overnight and stems from years of massive disinvestment and displacement. We urge the Board of Supervisors to vote no on Mayor Breed’s call for an emergency declaration.”
“We urge a no vote on Mayor Breed’s call for an emergency declaration. Increasing funding to law enforcement and tying Overdose Prevention Centers as part of a law enforcement strategy in the Tenderloin is a backward facing approach to addressing the root causes of poverty, discrimination, homelessness, and substance use," said Maria (Alex) Alexander, Executive Director for Center for Living and Learning.
“Increased use of criminal justice tactics is a big step backward in addressing substance use disorders and will actually exacerbate the problem, as we have seen for decades with the failed war on drugs. A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) is fully in favor of providing Overdose Prevention Centers (OPC) to address the health challenges of drug use and the tragic loss of lives to accidental overdose. These Centers can be a critical component in accessing treatment and recovery services as well. However, the use of police coercion would be highly detrimental," said Gretchen Burns Bergman, Co-Founder / Executive Director of a New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing).
“NHRC fully supports the implementation of Overdose Prevention Centers (OPC) to combat the overdose crisis and increase services for residents in the Tenderloin. However, we cannot continue to support failed war on drugs tactics that criminalize people who use drugs without addressing the root causes and need for a comprehensive approach. We urge the Mayor to work with the impacted people including those experiencing homelessness, families and residents, immigrants and people who use drugs to craft a coordinated, more helpful response,” said Laura Guzman, Sr. Director of Capacity Building & Community Mobilization with the National Harm Reduction Coalition.
"Recent calls by police associations and public officials to increase police funding are part of a coordinated backlash to last year’s movement to end police violence and misconduct after the murder of George Floyd; and directly oppose the nationwide call to defund police and invest in communities. Decades of data show that increased policing, surveillance, and incarceration do not solve these issues. Instead, criminalization brings long-term consequences and suffering that fall heaviest on poor, underserved, and overpoliced communities of color," said Yoel Haile, Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California.
“From our 29 years of experience as a Harm Reduction agency, we know that what people who use drugs need in order to prevent overdose is support, compassion, and the safety to be honest about their needs. Now, more than ever, our government needs to adopt true harm reduction policies and practices to change the course of the tragic overdose epidemic. Increased policing and punitive measures have not helped historically. There is no rationale to believe they will help now. Please choose to carefully move forward with strong guidance from true harm reduction experts. San Francisco has lost far, far too many. We demand real, compassionate change,” said Shannon Knox, Director of Training and Education with Community Health Project LA (CHPLA).
“I strongly oppose Mayor Breed’s proposal to increase police presence and further criminalize communities and people who use drugs. The Tenderloin needs a comprehensive approach that focuses on public safety and increases services to individuals by adopting a public health approach to a public health matter. Increasing police presence will lead to increase criminalization of low-income people and communities of color while doing nothing to increase neighborhood safety,” said Marc Philpart, Managing Director at PolicyLink & Principal Coordinator of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color.
“We are horrified by Mayor Breed’s plan to tie law enforcement and force to ‘overdose prevention’. If this happens, overdose deaths will climb to an apocalyptic rate, as people isolate even more out of fear of police. Harm reduction methods are proven to save lives. Enforcement tactics are proven to decimate communities and lead to death. Make no mistake, this plan is not harm reduction. This is the racist, classist war on drugs. We beg her to put the lives of vulnerable people ahead of political gain," said Natasha Vanderhoof AKA Soma Executive Director of The Sidewalk Project.