MEDIA CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office | | Valerie Ibarra (628)249.7946


SF Public Defender Mano Raju Urges More Public Health Support for Opioid Crisis

“Today, Mayor London Breed, SFPD Chief Bill Scott, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, and Supervisor Matt Dorsey held a press conference to discuss San Francisco’s efforts to address the opioid crisis. 

While it is encouraging to hear of coordinated efforts to expand treatment options and services, the heavy focus on relying on police and prosecutions to arrest and cage our way out of a public health crisis remains in direct conflict with decades of social and scientific data which indicates otherwise. 

Evidence from decades of the drug war has shown that punitive approaches, such as threatening homicide charges for drug sales in the case of an overdose, do not deter crime or drug use, but may deter people from seeking life-saving medical assistance. A report from Fair and Just Prosecution notes that such prosecutions, ‘do not alleviate the risk of fatal overdoses; are ineffective as a deterrent to drug use, drug sales, and overdose deaths; can be legally problematic and consume significant resources; often target friends and family members; and worsen racial disparities in the system.’ The Drug Policy Alliance concluded that, ‘drug-induced homicide prosecutions waste resources that could be spent on effective interventions.’

As public defenders, we want to save lives and have safe neighborhoods. As advocates for the majority of the indigent people arrested in San Francisco, many of whom live in neighborhoods greatly impacted by addiction and criminalization, we know that becoming entangled with the criminal legal system often leaves people in a worse place. The services that people are supposed to be able to access through the courts are wholly insufficient, which can result in prolonged incarceration while people are put on wait lists for underfunded services. Criminal records create barriers to employment and housing, which set people up for failure rather than for health and success.

Prosecuting subsistence-level drug sellers will do nothing to disrupt the supply and demand, and arresting someone using or selling drugs can often lead to worse health outcomes, like accidental overdoses. What San Francisco really needs is to prioritize universal health care and treatment on demand, along with other basic and vital support like housing.

Now is the time to listen to and collaborate with public health experts and community-based treatment and harm reduction providers who are working daily to save lives and treat community members suffering from substance use disorders. While we are all deeply concerned about the impact of overdoses in San Francisco, we must be focused on evidence-based solutions. We will be holding a press briefing next week with public health experts and community-based treatment and harm reduction providers to provide further details.”


Mano Raju, Public Defender of San Francisco


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