Combating Addiction in San Francisco

The opioid addiction epidemic has been skyrocketing in nearly every community in our country in the past decade. With more access to drugs and synthetics that are even more legal than the actual drug itself, more people are being put in danger to its side effects and face the risk of overdose. Even if someone knows they are heavily addicted and want to gain possible dual diagnosis treatment, the withdrawal symptoms are too painful to manage with a regular lifestyle. Statistics from researchers at Yale University show that almost 9,000 children and teenagers died from opioid poisoningfrom 1999 to 2016, and the annual deaths has risen over three times over that period.  As a result, most researchers don’t see any signs of the opioid epidemic stopping until more local communities take action to provide the proper medication and dual diagnosis treatment for the people who need it.

For issues like addiction in San Francisco, local government is continuing a groundbreaking program that established last fall to combat drug addiction and mental illnesses accompanying it. Lead by Mayor Farrell, the program has high hopes to decrease the amount of people on the streets that are battling opioid addictions, are facing drug related family issues, and are exposed to drug related crimes. Farrell believes that people like the homeless who are more prone to abusing these drugs or committing crimes to obtain more drugs will be motivate with the program’s free of charge service. Since the program is one of the first of its kind, it’s important to know why it’s so beneficial and how other large cities around the United States can do implement a similar plan.

Overdose and injury are common effects of addiction in San Fransisco.

Homelessness And Addiction

The city of San Francisco is facing a major homelessness and addiction problem right now. Healthcare is also sky high in prices and not everyone can afford to obtain the right medication they need. That’s why the city implemented their program last year that combats patient’s withdrawal effects and counseling needs at the same to. The program has proved extremely successful in many ways since its start for reasons including:

  • The program is able to provide effective medications to its patients. These medications include buprenorphine and naltrexone prescriptions, which blocks cravings in opioid addicts and helps them return to functioning normally. Instead of having to go to a hospital to attain these drugs, addicts have the ability to access “tent cities” set up by the program in their own neighborhood. Farrell realized that the majority of people with opioid disorders tended to congregate in certain streets, parks, and low income areas around San Francisco. For that reason, his program’s tents are set up in the heart of these areas so patients have close access to their resources.
  • The process is quick, easy, and thorough. Once a patient arrives to one of the tent cities, they show identification and talk to the tent’s leader to qualify to pick up medications. Medications are dosed by batches, so they don’t have to return to the city every week. If they report having a mental illness or other family issues related to their addiction, they can also seek a counselor at the same site who will hear them out. This has never been heard of before, as counselors typically take weeks to months to schedule a first appointment with. There are even special counseling tents that are established especially for single mothers, pregnant women, and younger adults who are suffering the consequences of opioid addiction.
  • The program is massively funded to continue into this year. In order to fund his plan and continue combating addiction in San Francisco, Farrell committed three million dollars of the city’s general funds. He also is gaining funds from MediCal, a medication and rehab focused organization that operates within the area. Taking into to account how expensive regular prescriptions and hospital visits are, the program is allowing low income patients seek immediate help at an insanely low price (absolutely free).
  • The program is a double edged sword. Some patients may find success with just medications, while others will need active counseling to deal with their mental symptoms. If someone has a mental disorder that counts them for obtaining dual diagnosis, they will need thorough counseling and face a higher risk of relapse. However, most drug facilities don’t offer both services within the same house for the high costs it requires. With the program, patients can seek a counselor as often as they need so they don’t feel isolated and unsupported throughout their treatment process. The counselors are highly trained, incredibly understanding, and volunteered to work within the program for a period of time to directly help the homeless.
  • The program is showing a strong track record. Since its establishment last year to decrease rates of addiction in San Francisco, nearly 100 people who reported opioid addiction symptoms. Of those people treated, at least 22% stayed with the treatments in the long run and the majority of all patients reported having decreased symptoms. Many opioid addicts tend to fall of their treatment plans, so just having those successes is huge for the program. To build up a stronger support system, Farrell is looking to add an additional ten members to the team who are experienced with providing medical care and working within low income communities. They are working the heart of some of the most dangerous areas of the cities, so they require intensive training and insurance in case anything happens to them.
  • The program is paving the way for cities combating addiction. Canada is already providing a similar program all across the country by allowing patients to walk in and receive overdose or withdrawal symptom medications on site. Since such a service is restricted in certain areas of the U.S., not as many cities have the green light. However, with supportive local governments and more outspoken people from our community, we can change that. We are in control of what our local cities invest their money in by voting, speaking out, and challenging the current state of affairs.

Future Dual Diagnosis Treatment 

As for the status of addiction in San Francisco this year, Mayor Farrell and the program managers are optimistic it will do even better. I hope that our national government will pay more attention to its success and realize that encouraging other states to the same for its cities will drastically improve the opioid epidemic. If enough members of their community are pushing for it, a real change can happen for low income patients needing help for addiction and mental illness!

Symptoms of a drug addict are damaging.
Addiction in San Fransisco has high hopes for improvement.

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