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State Sen. Wiener's Recovery Incentives Act Would Pay Meth Addicts to Stay Sober

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A state lawmaker from San Francisco is proposing a radically different approach to address meth addiction by making California the first state to pay people to get and stay sober.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 110 -- also known as the Recovery Incentives Act -- passed both the Assembly and the Senate with bipartisan and unanimous support earlier this month.

The legislation legalizes the substance use disorder treatment known as "contingency management" and authorizes Medi-Cal to cover it.

The program would allow meth addicts to enter treatment for their addiction and get tested regularly. For each clean test, that person would be given a payment as incentive. After several months of treatment, that could total hundreds of dollars.

If Gov. Gavin Newsom signs SB 110 into law, taxpayer dollars would be used through Medicaid.

Wiener appeared in San Francisco with Mayor London Breed on Tuesday, to announce $4.2 million in state funding obtained for a San Francisco meth sobering center. He also called on Newsom to sign the bill.

"Although we have big problems with heroin and fentanyl, meth is a significant part of the mix in terms of our addiction, overdose, and overdose death problems in San Francisco," Weiner said.

The California Health Benefits Review Program, which independently analyzes proposals in the state legislature, says there is "clear and convincing evidence" the treatment works during the program.

"We know that meth does not have a pharmaceutical treatment to help people get to recovery. Like for example opioids, there are medications you can take. But that doesn't exist yet for meth," said Wiener.

"Incremental rewards for somebody like me who was a stimulant user is an effective treatment," said Executive Director of the Castro Country Club Billy Lemon, who's also a recovering addict.

However, the same research also shows the effect doesn't last beyond six months after treatment ends.

Opponents argue the bill is a waste of taxpayer dollars as lawmakers push for California to be the first in the country to initiate such a state-funded program.

"City Hall and the legislators that represent us in Sacramento seem to focus on how to spend money on programs we know are going to fail," said former San Francisco mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg.

The San Francisco Department of Health says the growing methamphetamine crisis has led to the majority of overdose deaths in the city in recent years.

"Right now, we're doing close to nothing in terms of the meth crisis, drug crisis, and overdose crisis that's afflicting the city," said Tom Wolf, who is a recovery advocate and also recovering addict.

Wolf believes there has to be more of a balance of enforcement by rounding up drug dealers and harm reduction programs.

"It's not just like they're going out onto the street and handing out people money. It's more like you're in a program. Maybe an outpatient program where you're reporting weekly and giving drug tests, so there's some accountability involved with this," said Wolf.

Wiener has been responsible for a number of progressive bills pushing for different approaches to drug rehabilitation and decriminalization.

SB519, a bill that would decriminalize the possession of certain psychedelic drugs, became a two-year bill last month, keeping it alive so it can be voted on next year.

The bill would decriminalize possession of psilocybin ("magic mushrooms"), psilocyn, methylenedioxymethamphetamine ("MDMA"), Lysergic acid diethylamide ("LSD"), Dimethyltryptamine ("DMT"), mescaline (excluding peyote), and ibogaine. The bill does not decriminalize the sale of psychedelics or providing them to anyone under the age of 21.

The bill is similar to ordinances passed in Washington, D.C., Oakland, and Santa Cruz.

Wiener also backed a bill that would give opioid users a place to inject drugs in supervised settings. It also was pushed back until 2022 last July.

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