Friday, August 24, 2007

Panic in Needle Park

The Chronicle promotes harm reduction in response to heroin use in Golden Gate Park - but Washington’s Republican intolerance and local Progressives’ negligence will likely combine to make it into a disaster

The big issue in San Francisco, especially if you’re a Chronicle reader, is the squatting in Golden Gate Park by homeless drug addicts. Never mind that this issue is trotted out every few years with no solution anyway - With no serious competition for Mayor Gavin Newsdriven in his re-election campaign, the Chronicle has been running a series of stories on the ongoing junkie problem, featuring their new conscience, the flabby, mealymouthed former sports columnist, Chuck Nevius. In today’s issue, Nevius proposes a solution to the problem: setting up “injection centers” run by the City for addicts to shoot up in so that they won’t litter the park with their needles.

The idea is not without merit. Cities like Vancouver and Zurich have such facilities, which are more properly referred to by governments and NGOs as “supervised injection facilities”. Studies tend to confirm that while they by themselves do not reduce the total rate of HIV or Hepatitis infection among addicts, nor addiction rates, they do have an impact on the overall incidence of high-risk drug behaviors, and upon the public order and quality-of-life aspects of these offenses. When combined with more comprehensive measures such as needle exchange, methadone distribution and changes in administrative doctrine to “medicalize” drug use, addiction rates, to hard drugs at least, fall dramatically.

However, any attempts to rationally implement such solutions in San Francisco run into the usual codependent behaviors which mar other aspects of public policy. We already have Methadone programs, but they are impacted by accessibility problems (most are based in the Bayview and SOMA areas and have limited dispensing hours, yet the Tenderloin and Haight are our major centers of Heroin use). Newsom’s attempts to make Methadone accessible by prescription have been fought by the city’s leftist NGO establishment. As El Greco has brilliantly documented, needle “exchange” in San Francisco more often than not means mere distribution with no effort to collect used needles.

Moreover, in countries where supervised injection facilities have been successfully implemeted, it’s been done with the cooperation of their national governments. Vancouver may be about to lose that cooperation. Do you think we can get it here? California’s Prop 215, which sought to medicalize marijuana use, is ignored by the Feds, and is being used as a legal fiction by drug dealers to sell pot for recreational use with relative impunity, because there is no way to protect legimate, monitored medical uses from opportunistic Federal enforcement. Do you think San Francisco can get federal support for municipally supervised shooting galleries? Take a look at the comments to Nevius’ article and guess again. Do you think they will be properly supervised, given the negligence-oriented, corruptive influence of local NGO’s?

What the Chronicle fails to report, as it always does, is that none of these measures can be properly implemented until San Francisco’s voting public wakes up and recognizes the necessity of framing public policy according to real public needs rather than as a reflection of conceited self image, until we can remove the regime of self-serving NGO’s from the public service trough, and until we can elect politicians we can truly respect and trust - rather than simply like the idea of.