As San Francisco continues to what it can to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, city officials have found a pretty unusual way of helping people dealing with addiction. City officials are reportedly using private donations to deliver medical marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol to dozens of people in isolation in city-leased hotel rooms.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, about 270 people, mostly homeless, are staying in hotel rooms to recover from COVID-19 or waiting out their time in quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.
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The compassionate support program is a harm reduction technique implemented by the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) to help the city’s homeless drug users stay safe. The plan is to keep people quarantined inside of hotel rooms and help them avoid being exposed to the virus. Homeless addicts are especially vulnerable as they have nowhere to safely retreat and are forced to make regular trips to liquor stores, cannabis dispensaries, or methadone clinics.
“With regard to supporting people who are at risk, or who need to be in quarantine or isolation because they’re COVID positive, our focus needs to be on supporting them,” Dr. Grant Colfax from San Francisco’s Department of Public Health told Fox News affiliate KTVU. “Meeting them where they are so that they can be cared for in the most appropriate way. In the way that’s good for them and for our community.”
Critics lashed out at city officials for enabling people with addiction rather than treating them. San Francisco officials took to Twitter to clarify that the city is not the only one in the US offering such services and that taxpayer funds are not being used to buy booze and weed for the homeless.
“These harm reduction based practices, which are not unique to San Francisco, and are not paid for with taxpayer money, help guests successfully complete isolation and quarantine and have significant individual and public health benefits in the COVID-19 pandemic,” the SFDPH wrote on Twitter.
Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s public health director, told the Associated Press that the harm-reduction approach is widespread and based on decades of sound public health policy. “Our focus needs to be on supporting them,” he said of the people who are isolating or under quarantine.
For people experiencing alcohol withdrawal, the Department of Public Health calculates the minimum amount needed and delivers them with meals. The department also organizes the delivery of medication for people trying to kick heroin. The department does not help procure recreational marijuana.