‘They’re going to die’: San Francisco, Vancouver’s drug crises has advocate calling for intervention

With homelessness and drug problems on the rise during the pandemic, a delegation of Vancouver police and business leaders recently traveled to San Francisco to check how their Chinatown is coping after COVID-19.

Harm reduction is one of the key tactics to tackle the opioid crisis in both cities – but south of the border, police and recovery advocates say intervention is also needed to prevent people from dying. .

Many of the nearly 8,000 homeless people in San Francisco end up in Filet – the epicenter of a drug crisis claimed the lives of 700 people in 2020 and another 650 in 2021.

When the mayor of the city declared a state of emergency in the struggling area in December 2021, London Breed said about two people die every day from an overdose of Tenderloin, of which fentanyl is the number killer. one.

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“The bottom line is that sooner or later everyone has to make a choice, and that choice right now is to seek recovery, seek recovery, pursue recovery or die,” said Tom Wolf, advocate. the recovery said.

“Those are our options because fentanyl itself takes away any other options.”

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Wolf spent six months living on the 300 block of Golden Gate Avenue as a homeless man addicted to heroin and fentanyl, hustling to maintain his routine.

The former civil servant was prescribed oxycodone for pain after having surgery on his foot in 2015.

He’s stuck, spending his mortgage on street drugs.

When Wolf’s house was foreclosed upon three years later, he said his wife told him to get treatment – or get out of the house.

Wolf, who was withdrawing at the time, chose to leave.

Wolf told Global News in an interview: “That’s how powerful the addiction is.

“I chose drugs over my family.”

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While Wolf advocates harm reduction, he believes there needs to be a balance between policy and public health.

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“We went from a situation where we were trying to hold everyone accountable at a time and could send them off to the streets for treatment in the hopes of ending their homelessness – to only support people who are addicted to drugs forever,” he said.

In June, San Francisco residents overwhelmingly voted to recall their district attorney, Chesa Boudin, who was elected in November 2019 on a progressive platform aimed at reforming the criminal justice system and reducing prison sentence.

But his time in office coincided with a pandemic and viral footage of blatant thefts and attacks on Asian Americans.

Critics like Wolf accuse Boudin of being too lenient with violent criminals and say his policies are putting the safety of the community at risk.

“You can’t let organized drug dealers sell kilos, kilos and kilos of dope in a neighborhood that’s causing 600-700 overdose deaths every year,” says Wolf.

“There has to be some measure of accountability.”

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The San Francisco Police Department is cracking down on Tenderloin’s outdoor drug market, but its top police say enforcement alone is not enough.

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“We have to go beyond that because that’s not going to get us where we need to be,” Director William Scott told Global News in an interview.

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would allow legal safe injection sites to open in three cities across the state.

The new law will create a five-year trial at locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland.

In a signed veto letter, Newsom said “the worsening drug consumption challenges in these areas are not a risk we can accept.”

Newsom said he has long supported advanced harm reduction strategies but opponents like Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes called it a “backward proposal” that “shows a disregard for life and will push CA’s drug epidemic”.

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Safe injection sites have been operating for nearly two decades in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where North America’s first supervised injection site opened in 2003.

Since then, Insite says it has saved thousands of lives and millions of dollars in health care each year in its partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health.

The SFPD director believes harm reduction strategies are a good thing but also supports a balanced, evidence-based approach – including convincing some people to go for treatment.

Scott told Global News: “I believe intervention is necessary in some cases.

“Whatever those people are addicted to sometimes it’s beyond their ability to help their condition and their circumstances.”

Wolf says he’s one of those people.

The SFPD finally posted a snap of Wolf on Twitter in June 2018 following his fifth drug arrest on Golden Gate Avenue in central Tenderloin.

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The arresting officer, Rob Gilson, whom Wolf knew from previous arrests, pulled him aside before he was arrested at the station.

“He said look I don’t know what’s going on with you but I talked to your wife so I know you’re a family man and you’re dirty, you’re skinny, your clothes are dirty,” he said. Remember the Wolf.

“I don’t know what you need to do but you need to clean yourself up and get back to your family.”

This time, the message resonated.

Wolf said: “I just figured it out at the time.

“I don’t want to die here.”

Wolf spent three months in county jail, followed by six months in on-site rehab at the Salvation Army ARC.

He is now clean and back home with his wife and teenage children.

“There is a small group of people here who are already at the very lowest level of being unable to help but need to intervene – otherwise they will die,” said Wolf, who hopes his story will save others.

“I’m not comfortable with that, San Francisco shouldn’t be comfortable with that, Vancouver shouldn’t be comfortable with that.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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