San Francisco Goes Against Tide To Help Homeless Facing Addiction

In a sign of the times, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health is collaborating with licensed physicians to distribute “limited quantities” of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco to addicts in quarantine under the city’s program for housing homeless people in hotels. Private funding will be used. The idea behind this is to have homeless people dealing with alcohol and tobacco use “in these hotels” to protect the health of people who might otherwise need hospital care for life threatening alcohol withdrawal. The administration of the drugs is a “harm-reduction technique” aimed at helping people complete quarantine without having to rely on taxpayer money, according to San Francisco’s DPH. There are an estimated 700 people living on the streets in housing and more rooms are being prepared, especially for those over age 60. During a screening process, the city is offering support to patients “before they enter quarantine” to try to get any substance abuse issues under control.

Homeless healthcare issues have been a challenge nationally, particularly for hospitals. One hospital, St. Francis in Connecticut, said they sometimes have ‘homeless patients’ at their hospital for multiple weeks, in one case more than 35 days, former case management director Lynn Veith noted. “There’s no payer–we are the payer.” These issues are exacerbated during a healthcare and economic crisis, thus the San Francisco response.

In 2018, we profiled a homeless patient in a story that highlighted many of these challenges. Click here for that story.

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