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Meth sobering center top priority of task force, mayor says

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed announces recommendations from the city's Methamphetamine Task Force. Joining her at Strut Tuesday were, from left, Mike Discepola, task force co-chairs Dr. Grant Colfax and Rafael Mandelman, interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus, and Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, the mayor's director of mental health reform. Photo: John Ferrannini
San Francisco Mayor London Breed announces recommendations from the city's Methamphetamine Task Force. Joining her at Strut Tuesday were, from left, Mike Discepola, task force co-chairs Dr. Grant Colfax and Rafael Mandelman, interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus, and Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, the mayor's director of mental health reform. Photo: John Ferrannini  

The city will locate a place to house a meth sobering center within the next six months, based on a recommendation in the final report of the San Francisco Methamphetamine Task Force.

The 17 recommendations in the final report were discussed at a public announcement at Strut in the Castro Tuesday, October 22, that was headlined by Mayor London Breed and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax, both gay men who co-chaired the task force.

The city is already looking into several potential locations for the sobering center, according to Colfax, who declined to state any potential sites. The center was at the top of the list of recommendations in the task force report, and one that Breed said was incorporated into her comprehensive behavioral health plan, UrgentCareSF.

"In addition to creating a safe place for people to sober up, the center will be a place where we can connect those individuals to services," Breed said. "Our plan is to have at least one of these centers open in the next three to six months."

The task force was convened in February and is the second dealing with the topic; then-Mayor Gavin Newsom convened a 2005 task force to deal with the problem of meth use in the LGBT community specifically.

Some veterans of that task force served on the more recent one.

"San Francisco has a meth problem; I think we all know it. We all see it on our streets, in our hospital emergency rooms, in our jails and too often in the growing lists of San Franciscans dying from overdoses," Mandelman said.

The data backs him up. There has been a 500% increase in meth overdose deaths within the past decade and 126 people in San Francisco died of a meth overdose in 2018, according to city statistics.

"Among homeless San Franciscans who have died on our streets, methamphetamine was the most commonly present substance — showing up in 47% of deaths," Mandelman said.

The task force recommendations were organized under four goals: investing in care models to reduce harm, improving access to treatment and housing, building capacity of staff and services for meth users, and strengthening coordination of city services and systems, according to a copy of the report.

One way the city will seek to coordinate services and systems is by finding ways other than police intervention to deal with individuals having mental health and/or drug-related episodes.

"I hear almost every day from constituents who are seeing folks in distress — folks in psychosis — pretty much every day and they have no idea what to do, who to call, how to get a response," Mandelman said. "They feel nervous about calling the police.

"What (we) will be moving forward (with) are other responses so that San Franciscans who are seeing neighbors in distress have a number they can call, an app they can [use] and they can get in real time an appropriate response that isn't necessarily the police," Mandelman said. "That is something that I think will change lives both for folks who are in crisis and for the communities they live in."

In a news release, Breed said that a sobering center will help reduce visits to the psychiatric emergency services at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and hospital emergency rooms throughout the city, where people who are under the influence of drugs, but not in need of emergency medical or psychiatric services, often seek care.

The task force also recommended that the city expand the availability of treatment beds, and that the city add "more behavioral health resources to accompany police on calls regarding people in crisis," according to the release from the mayor's office.

The release pointed out that the city is making progress on that recommendation and the mayor's goal of adding 1,000 shelter beds, and has opened 346 new shelter beds, with 444 either in construction or in the pipeline. Breed also recently announced the addition of 14 new Hummingbird psychiatric respite beds, in partnership with Tipping Point Community.

Mandelman said he hoped that the city's response to meth can serve as a model in much the same way that the San Francisco model of AIDS care was emulated elsewhere.

Mike Discepola, the senior director of behavioral health services for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which operates Strut, also spoke at the announcement. He had been one of the 22 members of the task force.

"At the San Francisco AIDS Foundation we love drug and alcohol users, including meth users," Discepola said. "We value community ideals that offer compassion and dignity to our lovers, families, friends, and community members.

"I believe when we accept drug users without stigma or shame and welcome them high, low, crashing, and in all states of mental health and substance use and misuse, we have nothing to gain but vast improvements in serving all residents with substance use concerns in their health and functioning," he added.

To read the report, visit https://bit.ly/2qFpBW3

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