09/23/18 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week on Century of Lies we look at California's Assembly Bill 186, which would allow the city and county of San Francisco to establish a supervised consumption facility that would prevent drug overdose deaths. Governor Jerry Brown has until September 30 to sign the measure into law.

Audio file



SEPTEMBER 23, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well, we're still waiting to know whether Governor Jerry Brown will sign Assembly Bill 186, to establish supervised consumption facilities in the city and county of San Francisco, or rather to allow the city and county of San Francisco to set up their own pilot projects. The bill originally would have let several locations around the state do so, but to satisfy conservatives, prohibitionists, and unrepentant drug warriors, the bill was amended so that only San Francisco could participate.

That bill landed on Jerry Brown's desk on September Fourth. At the time of this recording, it is September 21, Governor Brown has not yet signed the bill. He has until September 30.

On September Fourth, California state Democrats held a news conference to urge Governor Brown to go ahead and sign. We're going to hear that news conference now. The first speaker will be Vitka Eisen, PhD, she's the CEO and president of HealthRIGHT 360. HealthRIGHT 360 was formed when San Francisco's legendary Haight Ashbury Free Clinic merged with the equally legendary Walden House.

She'll be followed by California state Assemblymember Susan Eggman, then California state Senator Scott Weiner.

VITKA EISEN, PHD: Welcome to HealthRIGHT 360, where we provide substance use disorder treatment, mental health services, primary medical care, dental care, services to help people access housing, employment services, educational services, basically everything that our clients need to help get well and get better, do better and be better in their lives.

And hopefully, at some point, we're able to offer an overdose prevention service here, otherwise known as a supervised injection facility. We would like this here because we think it makes sense.

It makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, is because people who overdose and die never have another chance at recovery. Never have another chance of reuniting with their families and having a healthier, better life. And two, because there's a lot of research that supports it, that helps -- it helps people link to care and improve their health outcomes.

So, because I work in this field, I get -- I talk a lot about this, and I get a lot of questions about these services. And the questions are often, the ones that are directed to me, are often about, aren't we enabling people who are using these services? Aren't we enabling addiction?

And to this I say, absolutely not. People who live on the streets, and are publicly injecting drugs, those people live in a great deal of pain and misery, and pain and misery and shame do not lead people to health or recovery. They keep people unwell, they keep people where they're at.

It's really hope that brings people to health and recovery. It's hope and a belief in a positive, different future, and if a person can't have it for themselves, somebody has it for them. And I know this not just because of the work that I do, and have done for most of the past thirty years, I know it from personal experience. I am a former injection heroin user, and got my recovery through Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, which is one of our programs at HealthRIGHT 360.

Thirty years -- over thirty years ago, I think I came to Haight Ashbury Free Clinic's detox, like, nine times, and every time I came in, I was welcomed. I wasn't treated with shame, I wasn't made to feel embarrassed, I wasn't humiliated. I was welcomed with love and compassion, and support.

So then on that tenth time, when I thought I can't do this anymore, there was someone there who I trusted, who I had built a relationship with, who said maybe it's time to try something else.

And I -- because I trusted them, I did. I went on to Walden House -- again, one of HealthRIGHT 360's programs. I really didn't think I'd end up doing this job from those days, but, it was one -- it was -- because I trusted them, that I believed in what they had to say, and I went on, and I've been drug free for the past 33 years.

So it's really hope that brings people to health. It's hope, not shame, and it's what these supervised injection facilities will offer. Health and hope to those who live on the margins.

I'd really like to -- I'm really excited to have these incredible, courageous elected officials and policy advocates behind me, who have really stepped up in the face of a national epidemic, an opioid overdose epidemic, it's a public health crisis, and these folks have had the foresight and courage to bring legislation to the forefront that would help address this issue in AB186.

I'd first like to welcome the author of the bill, Assemblymember Susan Eggman. Susan Eggman, listen, when I got -- went into recovery, one of the things I did, I went back to school, and I went to graduate school, and I got a masters in social work, and so I might be a little biased when I say I think that social workers make some of the best policymakers, so I'd like to welcome the sponsor of the bill, the original author of the bill, to talk a little bit about it. Assemblymember Eggman?

CA STATE ASSEMBLYMEMBER SUSAN EGGMAN: Good morning everybody. Thank you for that warm welcome, and thank you for having us in this great facility. So, I'm Susan Eggman. I am a social worker by training, a politician by accident, like most of us are, I think.

But there comes a time when you work with people for years on the streets and you work with people in recovery, in different parts of their life, until at some point you realize we can only talk about things so much, but unless we have laws and policy in place, that actually allow people to rise to their full potential, then we're not doing our full job.

I'd like to specifically thank one of my staff members, Logan Hess, who was a champion of this bill the whole way through, and it wouldn't probably have been possible without him. So sometimes a brave assemblymember only gets brave when they have brave staffers who say this is a great idea.

So I, shortly out of the military I worked in substance abuse. I saw the epidemic go from heroin to crack cocaine to methamphetamine, back to opioids. During that time, what I learned and then as becoming a professor of social work, that one of the things that's already been mentioned is this issue around relationship.

I could teach my students all I wanted about different theories about works, what doesn't, but the most basic thing that we can do is to connect with somebody on a human level and treat them with dignity and respect, and that is the whole idea behind the safe injection sites.

And I think when we look around and when we tell stories about who we are as a society, when we talk about who we are as a people, as a country, as a state, I think we think about the fabric of who makes up that. Is it journalists, is it politicians, is it rich and famous?

It's all those, but it's also the people who live amongst us on the streets. It's also those people who, when we walk by, we have that moral crisis within us to say, what are we doing? Are we doing enough, have we tried enough? Do we judge, do we offer hope? What do we do?

And so I think this bill comes on the back of that, of really understanding that we have a crisis, and seeing the evolution of people's willingness, I think, to think outside the box and try different things.

We have long been a law and order kind of society, and I think we're realizing now that we need to work towards a little bit more humanity.

We introduced this bill three years ago for the first time, and I couldn't even get a vote in the first committee. And again, when we started the bill was much broader, to say let's go state-wide. Last year we came back and said, let's just try nine counties, and when we were finally able to pass it, it was one city, one brave city, San Francisco, who was willing to do this.

Also recognizing you have a crisis, and recognizing again that people who live on the street, addicts, are part of the fabric of our culture. They are going to be the story of what we tell about ourselves in 20 and 30 and 40 years, and so it's really incumbent upon all of us to use all the resources we have, I think, to be able to treat people with compassion, to keep them alive that one more day.

Everybody out there is somebody's son or daughter or father or mother or something. They all have a family. They all have family members who've been waiting for that call, and hopefully this call will be, they got into treatment.

So I couldn't have done this without a great team behind me, and I'd next like to introduce a tenacious, you know, when somebody says your first term, you should take it easy a little bit, Senator Scott Weiner didn't follow that advice, and so I'd like to introduce my friend, and one of the co-authors of this bill, Senator Scott Weiner.

CA STATE SENATOR SCOTT WEINER: Thank you, Susan, and, I try to be tenacious, but Susan Eggman is pretty much the definition of tenacious. It is -- I still don't fully understand how Susan was able to get this out of the Assembly, not once, but twice, two different votes.

It's, I wasn't a hundred percent confident, but she found a way to do it. And then we almost hit a wall in the Senate, we actually did hit a wall last year and had to park the bill for a year, and we were able to really make the case. We had a great team effort, the two of us, also Senator Ricardo Lara, we really made the case, got it out of the Senate, and now it's on the Governor's desk, and this is incredibly exciting.

I want to thank HealthRIGHT 360 for hosting us here today. This is one of our amazing, amazing health organizations, and, you know, I'm proud to represent San Francisco for many, many reasons, but one of the reasons near the top is that this is truly a public health town.

This is a city, a community, that believes deeply in the power of health care, in the power of progressive, forward looking public health approaches, and we're not scared to push the envelope on public health policy, even if we are ahead -- even if we're ahead of other cities, even if the federal government threatens us with criminal prosecution, such as that ignorance New York Times op-ed that Rod Rosenstein crawled out of his cave to publish a few weeks ago, filled with inaccuracies.

We did it with needle exchange decades ago because we were experiencing the height of the HIV AIDS epidemic in this town, and if the federal government was going to stick its head in the sand, we were going to do it the right way here.

We did it with medical cannabis. These are all situations where we were being threatened by the federal government, where both Republican and Democratic administrations were threatening us, were raiding, but we persevered, and then, down the line, guess what? Needle exchange is happening in a lot of places. Medical cannabis is being embraced even in Republican states.

So yet again, despite threats from our federal government, we are going to move forward here in San Francisco, and show the rest of the state, and show the rest of the country, that this can be done.

We know from every other city and country -- Australia, Canada, Europe -- every other place that does this has succeeded. Safe injection sites lower crime rates, lower infection rates, get people into recovery. This is exactly where we should be going, and I am just so proud of the legislature for doing this.

We are urging our great friend, Governor Brown, to sign AB186. The Governor has spoken to me repeatedly about the syringe and the public injection crisis that we have here in San Francisco. He's seen it with his own eyes. This is a governor who believes in progressive alternatives to incarceration. He understands that the war on drugs failed, that drug addiction is not a criminal issue, it's a health issue, and we have to take a public health approach to addressing it.

And of course, what we did in the legislature was simply giving permission, to say under state law, it's legal. But nothing happens without local leadership. And we are so lucky here in San Francisco to have a mayor and to have a board of supervisors who are solidly behind this idea.

And it's now my honor to introduce and bring up our great mayor, someone who I have known for about fifteen years now, back to when we were both, you know, political babies, and we are now, I think, in a, thankfully, in a position where we can work on these issues, and she, it's just, not that many mayors would take office and one of the first things that they would push would be a safe injection site.

But, London Breed understands that the way we've been doing things hasn't worked. We have to try new things if we're to address the situation on our streets, and I want to thank Mayor Breed for her leadership on this and so many issues. So, Mayor London Breed.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. We're listening to a news conference by California Democrats, urging California Governor Jerry Brown -- who by the way is a Democrat -- to sign Assembly Bill 186, which would allow the city and county of San Francisco to set up a supervised consumption facility, or what's referred to as an overdose prevention site, which would save lives.

You just heard Vitka Eisen, PhD, the CEO and President of HealthRIGHT 360. She was followed by California State Assemblymember Susan Eggman and California State Senator Scott Weiner. Now, let's hear from San Francisco Mayor London Breed. She'll be followed by California State Assemblymember David Chiu, and he will be followed by Laura Thomas, who's the Drug Policy Alliance's interim California State Director.

SF MAYOR LONDON BREED: Thank you, Vitka, for opening up the doors of HealthRIGHT 360 and allowing us to hold this event here and all that you do for San Francisco.

I remember when HealthRIGHT 360 was actually Walden House, and I spent a lot of time helping people in my community and family members get into treatment at Walden House, and I do really appreciate the approach to focusing on health, and trying to get people healthy, and that's why the name is so fitting: HealthRIGHT 360.

I remember when you changed the name, and I kept calling it Walden House, but now, I'm calling it what it needs to be called, and that is HealthRIGHT 360. Getting the health of citizens here in San Francisco, who sadly struggle with drug addiction, health, healthy.

And I want to thank our leaders in Sacramento, including Susan Eggman and Scott Weiner, for their consistency in pushing something that is going to help us get to a better place in San Francisco.

When I served on the Board of Supervisors, on a regular basis I would get complaints about the number of needles on the streets. I would get complaints about the number of people shooting up on the streets. And in certain instances, some programs and other folks would be out there talking to individuals, trying to get them help, trying to get them support, and sadly, it hasn't worked.

What we've been doing in San Francisco, and I think in many places, hasn't worked. I was basically not completely sold on safe injection sites initially, until Laura Thomas over here, from Drug Policy Alliance, kept bugging me and bugging me and bugging me to get to Vancouver to see exactly what it entails, and look at the data, and how it's actually been effective.

And, I was very surprised at how impressed I was with not only the numbers but the facility. Zero overdoses [sic: overdose deaths] in those facilities. Over thirty-five-hundred people referred to detox who have not come back through their system.

The compassion of the people who work there, and it just made all the difference for the people who I had spoken to who said they wanted to get clean and sober, and they knew that they had a place to go. They knew that they had people who respected them, who supported them, and that would help them when they needed the help.

And so such a major difference in terms of the before and after photos, the look, the conversations, this is something that I know will make a difference.

What we're doing right now isn't working, and I know it makes people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. But I feel like, here in San Francisco, we have to be willing to try new things.

Just because we don't want to see people shooting up, and we don't want to see the needles on the street, doesn't mean that it's just going to disappear without taking real action to get us to a better place here in our city.

So it's going to take a lot of work, and this is one tool that is going to be so significant in helping us here in San Francisco with state laws that get in the way of real progress.

And so I want to thank our leaders in Sacramento, and I'd also like to thank David Chiu for his work, and his support, because this narrowly made it through the Assembly and the Senate, and we are so grateful for their work, and we are here today to encourage our governor, Jerry Brown, to sign this legislation.

This is really going to make such a huge difference, and it gets us one step closer to the reality of a real site here in San Francisco, something that we are long overdue to try, something that we have the will, and people want to see happen, but we just don't have all of the tools necessary to get to a better place.

So here we are, today, and I am so looking forward to making sure that, as soon as we are able, we will open a site here in our city, and we know we have some amazing partners that we will continue to work with, but more importantly, we want to make sure that we protect our great organizations as well.

And with that, I'd like to introduce Assemblymember David Chiu, who has been just an incredible leader in Sacramento on this issue as well as others that have impacted our city. Assemblyman David Chiu.

CA STATE ASSEMBLYMEMBER DAVID CHIU: Thank you, Madame Mayor, and let me first start by thanking all the health advocates who are here for your vision and your tenacity and your courage, and thank HealthRIGHT 360 for helping to host us.

And I want to welcome Susan Eggman to San Francisco, and thank her as has been mentioned before for her courage. As we were just recounting, I was the first San Francisco legislator to cast a vote publicly to support this in the Assembly Health Committee.

And, as I had shared with her before the vote, as I shared publicly during the committee, as a former prosecutor, I had some initial questions about this policy. It is initially counter-intuitive, until you stop to think about it, and before that vote, I actually pulled down many of the studies that you have heard about, of Vancouver, of Sydney, from Canada, Australia, and Europe, that showed just demonstrably that the health data, the health facts, suggest that we have to do this.

As the chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, we all know that our challenge of chronic homelessness, not just on the streets of San Francisco but around California are exacerbated because of individuals who are addicted to drugs. We need to try new things.

And as I said on the Assembly floor this past week, people are dying on the streets of our state, on the streets of our city. We have to be willing to innovate, but innovate with facts and innovate with science.

I also want to thank the courage of my colleague, Senator Weiner, who has been so tenacious in leading his colleagues along. And I also want to thank Mayor London Breed. If I had a dollar for every time she risked, on the campaign trail running for mayor, the importance of moving this idea forward, we would probably be able to fund another campaign in San Francisco.

And the courage of San Francisco, in moving forward this important and, dare I say, this historic idea. This is a historic moment. If Governor Brown signs this bill, we will be able to move forward with an innovation that is rooted in science and facts. It was not long ago, in fact, in recent years, it was not long ago when an abortion, medical marijuana, and needle exchange were considered illegal in the state of California.

And we are here making history to say that public health should win. That science and facts should win. And it is my hope that with this pilot program, San Francisco will lead, California will lead, and the rest of the country will hopefully follow in bringing true dignity and true healthcare to those who desperately need it.

And with that, it's my honor to bring up one of the earliest advocates for this policy. Laura Thomas is the executive director [sic: Interim California State Director] of the Drug Policy Alliance. Ms. Thomas.

LAURA THOMAS: Thank you. It's an honor to be here in HealthRIGHT 360, you know, its predecessor, Walden House, saved the lives of some people who are very important to me, and I owe Walden House, and now HealthRIGHT 360, a huge debt.

And it's amazing that so often the push back that we get around supervised consumption services, as Vitka mentioned, is that they are enabling drug use, that they are not going to help get people into treatment, and it's been amazing to have the treatment providers across California working with us on this legislation, to be able to push back on the myths and misperceptions around what leads people out of problematic substance use.

So I'm Laura Thomas, I'm the Interim State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. We're one of the co-sponsors of this bill, along with Harm Reduction Coalition, Project Inform, Tarzana Treatment Center, the California Society of Addiction Medicine, and the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, and together, we did the ground work for this campaign, but we relied so heavily on the leaders, the leadership, and the tenacity, that you've already heard about.

And the reason that we're working on this, the reason that we've been pushing for supervised consumption services, is because at the most basic level they save lives. And we know that these are lives that need to be saved. They are people who may not be reached otherwise. And we all deserve better. San Francisco deserves better.

We deserve clean, healthy environments, everyone does, whether it's people who use drugs, or those of us who have homes to go to where we may consume our substances, our glass of whiskey, in peace.

And, so, this is a new idea for us here in San Francisco, but it is not a new idea. You've heard the research referenced. There are now well over a hundred and twenty of these sites around the world. They've been in place for thirty years, and the first one started in 1986 in Bern, Switzerland.

And so we have a wealth of information and experience to rely on as we move forward here in San Francisco.

But in order for that to happen, we need the governor to sign this bill, and we need to stand up to a Trump administration that is doing a lot of saber-rattling and threatening us. This is par for the course with this administration, and I am grateful to live here in San Francisco, where we, whether it's about the environment, it's about same sex marriage, it's about immigration, it's about access to medical marijuana, or it's about supervised consumption services, our own leadership, our population, the people who live here, will push forward to do the right thing.

And so I'm grateful to live here in San Francisco. I look forward to many of these sites opening around the city. I'm excited to figure out what kinds of models and locations will work best for us, and I look forward to being able to provide people who use drugs in San Francisco with better options.

You know, these sites work for everyone. If you live in a neighborhood that has, where you're seeing needles discarded on the streets and people injecting, then your neighborhood is probably a good location for one of these sites.

If you're not seeing that in your neighborhood, your neighborhood's probably not a good location for one of these sites. But I think everyone understands that people who are injecting on the street, that they're doing that because that is their last resort. They don't want to be injecting on the street. They don't want to be injecting in public. They don't want to be injecting where children may see them.

And, they desperately want to have safer options, such as a supervised consumption service. So, I'm happy to answer any questions about the statistics and the research, but I know that many of you have covered that as well.

And I also want to give a shout out to Glide and the Capital One Design Firm, that hosted, developed and hosted along with many of us the prototype supervised consumption overdose prevention program that many people were able to tour last week. It was really gratifying to see so many folks, from local elected officials to members of the community, to people who use drugs, able to tour it and see what it would really look like.

So I'm hoping that that goes a long way to help addressing some of the misperceptions around this. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You just heard San Francisco Mayor London Breed, California State Assemblymember David Chiu, and Laura Thomas from the Drug Policy Alliance speaking about California's Assembly Bill 186, which would allow the city and county of San Francisco to set up overdose prevention sites, what are otherwise known as supervised consumption facilities, within the city and county of San Francisco.

This bill will save lives. Governor Brown has until September Thirtieth to sign. Governor Brown, with each tick of the clock, another life is lost. You can save lives by simply using your pen and signing AB186 into law.

And that's it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

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And speaking of knowledge, January 22 through 27 in 2019, the National Institute on Drug Abuse holds its annual propaganda exercise aimed at young people. That's their National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week.

Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.