Liberal City Puzzles For Providing Alcohol to Homeless Alcoholics

( – Liberal San Francisco is under fire for giving free alcohol to problem drinkers. The $5 million scheme gives shots of alcohol to chronic drinkers to stave off the effects of withdrawal and keep them out of the Emergency Room. As part of the Managed Alcohol Program, nurses give beer, vodka shots, and wine to homeless people with alcohol dependency. They usually provide one or two drinks up to four times a day. The scheme has been running for four years, costing $20 million.

Tom Wolf, who founded the Pacific Alliance for Prevention and Recovery, denounced the strategy, saying it wastes money and delays addiction treatment. Mr. Wolf questions the program’s intent and asks, “Where’s the recovery in all of this?”

While the Department of Public Health, which runs the scheme, insists it saves lives, Wolf believes it does nothing to help the addicts get their lives together. Once a heroin addict who lived on San Francisco streets, Mr. Wolf insists that if such a program had been available to him, it would have significantly delayed his recovery.

Nevertheless, some experts laud the method and say reducing harm is essential for people with drug and alcohol addictions. Keanan Joyner, a researcher in the Clinical Research on Externalizing and Addiction Mechanisms Lab at UC Berkeley, stated that the science “is very clear,” and harm reduction as a treatment strategy is highly effective. Mr. Joyner explained that he understands objections to such treatments because they feel counterintuitive, but they help to reduce intake to manageable levels and avoid painful and potentially dangerous withdrawal.

Managed Alcohol Programs (MAPs) emerged in Canada in the 1990s and are credited with decreasing and stabilizing alcohol intake. Dr. Bernie Pauly of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research said studies conclude that MAPs result in fewer hospital visits, fewer potentially fatal detox episodes, and fewer arrests. One drinker told researchers that when he started in the program, his intake dropped by around three-quarters.

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