Overdose Surge Sparks SF Debate Over Harm Reduction

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A drug user looks at the package of narcan she was handed by Paul Harkin, director of harm reduction at GLIDE who was walking the streets to handout narcan, fentanyl detection packets and tinfoil to those drug users in need as a part of outreach on the streets of San Francisco. (Photo by Nick Otto for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

San Francisco has long embraced a philosophy of harm reduction in its drug treatment programs.  The goal is to prevent deaths and disease by providing clean syringes, medications that help curb addiction, and other judgment-free treatment support. Studies show that this approach does save lives. But now the city is in the midst of a fentanyl-fueled overdose crisis, with more than 1300 deaths over two years. In response, some officials are questioning the effectiveness of the harm reduction model, calling for other options like abstinence-only treatment programs. We’ll discuss the history, science and politics of drug treatment in San Francisco.


Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Stanford School of Medicine

Vitka Eisen, president and CEO, HealthRIGHT 360

Ahsha Safai, member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District 11

Jen Jeffries , former IV drug user currently on methadone. Medication assisted treatment coordinator, San Francisco AIDS Foundation