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Politics & Policy

‘Nobody’s Going to Jail’: Supes’ Plan to Fix Drug Crisis Asks City Bosses for Ideas Within 90 Days

Written by Garrett LeahyPublished Sep. 06, 2022 • 5:40pm
SF Supervisor Matt Dorsey, with members of TRP Academy (Treatment, Recovery and Protection) after he announced a resolution called "San Francisco Recovers” which they say will be a "comprehensive, citywide strategy to reduce drug overdose deaths, incentivize recovery for those struggling with substance-use disorders, and end street-level drug dealing and open-air drug scenes.on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

A new plan calling on 21 city departments and six city commissions to come up with ideas to end open-air drug dealing and overdose deaths in San Francisco has been unveiled—but it isn’t clear how this differs from previous efforts to fix the troubled Tenderloin.

Supervisors Matt Dorsey, Rafael Mandelman and Catherine Stefani unveiled their plan Tuesday that seeks to incentivize people struggling with addiction into accepting recovery services.

But the plan doesn’t outline concrete methods to fix the issues of the Tenderloin and surrounding neighborhoods, instead suggesting policies the supervisors support and asking departments to report back within 90 days on what resources are needed to make them happen.

The suggested fixes for the deadly drug crisis include: 

  • Expanding the current practice by the DA’s office of electronically tagging drug users and having police officers track them down and confiscate their drugs if they wander into known drug-dealing areas—known as “Assertive Case Management.”
  • Supervised consumption sites where drug users can safely use substances under medical supervision to prevent accidental overdose deaths.
  • “Right to Recovery” zones located near treatment centers where drug enforcement is prioritized, but illicit drugs would be confiscated and drug dealers subject to arrest.
  • Job placement and training instead of imprisonment for those who agree to stop drug dealing activity–known as the “High Point Drug Market Intervention Strategy” that is already used in New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Dorsey, who is leading the initiative called “San Francisco Recovers,” said it was a “soft-touch.”

“This is a way that nobody’s going to jail but we’re doing an effective job of interrupting the drug market and drug scenes,” Dorsey said.

Supervisors Catherine Stefani supporting a resolution called "San Francisco Recovers” which they say will be a "comprehensive, citywide strategy to reduce drug overdose deaths, incentivize recovery for those struggling with substance-use disorders, and end street-level drug dealing and open-air drug scenes. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

The resolution will be introduced at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, and includes many departments dealing directly with overdose victims such as the Department of Health, the Department of Homelessness and Housing, the District Attorney’s Office, and the police, along with six city commissions.

It comes as drug overdose deaths reached a toll of almost 1,700 in San Francisco since 2020, hundreds more than the city’s total count of Covid deaths.

Dorsey, who himself has struggled with addiction, also said he believes a law enforcement response is necessary to handle drug users and dealers, but did not say what form it would take.

Although supervised consumption sites are illegal under federal law, San Francisco has said it plans to back the operation of supervised consumption sites anyway, even after Governor Newsom vetoed SB57 last month, which would have legalized sites in several California cities.

City Attorney David Chiu supports a model similar to New York City, where a San Francisco non-profit runs the safe use sites, rather than operating them directly, his spokesperson said.

Dorsey also said that millions of dollars in settlements the city has received from opioid manufacturers would be used to fund these policies. Including $34 million in cash payments that will go to “opioid abatement and overdose prevention”. 

Tenderloin Supervisor Dean Preston has previously called for a hearing to address drug overdose deaths which is set to be held on September 29. 

Preston issued a statement after the Dorsey announcement, saying he looks forward to hearing more from the Department of Public Health and other health experts in response to it.

“We are determined to make sure health experts, not politicians, lead the creation and implementation of a long overdue overdose prevention plan,” Preston said.

Another previous plan to fix the drug crisis in the Tenderloin came in December 2021, when Mayor London Breed announced a three-month state of emergency that was supposed to help cut through red tape. 

For now, Tenderloin residents will have to wait at least 90 days to see any formal plan on ending the drug crisis materialize.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at

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