Portland NORML News - Friday, December 26, 1997

SF Official Calls For Easing Curbs On Methadone

Date: Fri, 26 Dec 1997 12:57:01 EST
From: "Tom O'Connell" 
To: Multiple recipients of list 
Subject: ART: SF Chronicle, 12/26/97

San Francisco can be so progressive that it's sometimes hard to remember
that it's part of the US:

Friday, December 26, 1997 Page A23

(c)1997 San Francisco Chronicle

S.F. Official Calls For Easing Curbs On Methadone
Help sought for heroin addicts

Yumi Wilson, Chronicle Staff Writer


Contending that efforts to halt drugs at the border or to ``Just
Say No'' have failed, San Francisco Supervisor Gavin
Newsom says it is time to treat heroin abuse less as a crime and
more like a medical problem.

Newsom is asking the board to seek a federal waiver that
would ease restrictions and allow private doctors ``full
discretion'' to prescribe methadone, a synthetic drug that
blunts the craving for heroin.

Currently, only state-licensed and federally approved clinics
can distribute the drug, which means there are long waiting
lists in most places.

Such waivers have been issued only in New York City,
Connecticut and Baltimore -- which has the highest rate of
heroin-related emergency room visits in the nation.

The board's Family, Health and Environment Committee is
expected to hear the matter next month. Meanwhile, Newsom
is asking for public input at a town hall meeting on January 24
at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House.

The waiver is badly needed here, Newsom believes, because
San Francisco ranks third nationally for heroin-related
emergency room visits. Also the number of deaths from heroin
overdose has increased by 17 percent from 1992 to 1995.

``Our statistics show (that) the drug policy has been a
he said. ``It's incumbent upon us to take a totally different
approach and start looking at the problem as a medical one.''

Although there is wide agreement that the local heroin problem
is getting out of control, there are still questions about
Newsom's approach.

Critics say methadone does nothing to eliminate drug
dependency. They contend that such treatment coddles people
who engage in criminal behavior, citing studies claiming that
many addicts revert to heroin after they run out of methadone.
``We still allow the person to keep the addictive mentality,''
said the Rev. Arnold G. Townsend, a recovering drug addict
who uses the Bible to teach others how to break the habit. ``So
the problem will never be solved because if they can't get
methadone, they'll go back to another drug.''

Newsom acknowledges that methadone isn't the perfect
solution. But he believes that the city needs every weapon
possible to combat all forms of drug abuse that last year cost
the city $1.7 billion dollars in emergency room visits, treatment
and incarceration.

The Department of Public Health favors the waiver,
particularly in light of the city's past, less punitive
to drug abuse.

In fact, the city has already declared a state of emergency so it
could hand out millions of hypodermic needles to drug addicts
each year. And for several years, the city has allowed cannabis
clubs to serve marijuana to the sick and dying.

In addition to the growing number of public health officials
who support methadone use, the White House also is urging
for more physician control of dosing and distribution of the

And a committee at the National Institutes of Health concluded
in November that heroin is a medical problem that can be
treated effectively with methadone.

``Only very few people seriously question methadone
maintenance as the No. 1 response to heroin addiction,'' said
Jim Stillwell of the city's Health Department, working to
increase treatment options to the needy. ``Most studies say it
should be the primary response.''

The biggest problem, however, remains the lack of methadone
for most heroin addicts. According to epidemiologist John
Newmeyer, there are roughly 8,000 to 12,000 heroin users in
San Francisco. But city health officials say only 1,500 have a
slot in nonprofit methadone clinics. Another 100 or so are in
another, short-term heroin detoxification program.

The waiver would make it easier for more people to get
methadone, said Newmeyer, who works at the
Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, where heroin addicts do not get

``Any kind of treatment -- our kind, methadone, therapy,
community -- we need more of it,'' Newmeyer said. ``This waiver is
cost-effective. The city would reap the benefits.''

For example, many middle- class users say they don't go to the
clinics because they fear losing their privacy, Newmeyer said.
Others say work and family obligations prevent them from
going to the clinics and picking up the pill every day.

The waiver, Newsom says, would allow addicts to get the
drug from their own doctors, and some patients to get more
than a day's supply at once. The waiver also could make it
easier for teenagers to get methadone. Because parental consent
is currently necessary, many teenage addicts go without

(c) The Chronicle Publishing Company


Big Sting Targets Drug Zone In City (Letter To 'San Francisco Examiner'
On Downtown Drug Sting)

Subj: SENT:LTE: SFExaminer -- Big Sting Targets Drug Zone
From: jwjohnson@netmagic.net (Joel W. Johnson)
Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 17:02:10 -0800
RE:   Big Sting Targets Drug Zone In City
PUB:  December 26, 1997

To the Editor:

Police Captain Martel admits "[w]e know realistically that it is only a
matter of time before [the drug dealers arrested in police drug sting] come
back [to the area around Sixth and Market streets]," yet he still insists
that 'Operation T-Bone' was necessary and effective (December 26).

Frankly, I am amazed by such a complete waste of energy.  We take folks who
have no home or money, many with drug problems, and we arrest them.  So,
where are they going to go once released?  You guessed it -- right back to
selling dope on the streets.  We're not solving the problem, just delaying
it till a more convenient time.  Or maybe we just like to illude ourselves
that the problem has diminished.

Martel asks,  "[w]hat else can you do?"  Well, if we were to fund housing
and education instead of police stings, we might actually get results in
fighting drug abuse, and consequently diminish the business feeding the
drug dealers.  Better yet, we could regulate the flow of drugs and
instantly elimate their jobs, and thus greatly reducing the scope of our
drug problem.

But however we choose to clean up the drug infested area of Sixth and
Market, let us first be true to ourselves and our pocketbooks by refusing
to take action that we already know is doomed to failure.


Joel W. Johnson
(contact info)



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