By Cynthia Rodriguez
If you have seen my local media interviews or have stopped by one of my campaign events you’ve probably already heard that I believe the forced treatment program being spearheaded by the District Attorney is the wrong way to go. Soon this program, being proposed in state legislation, is coming up for an important hearing at the Health Committee of the state senate. I’m asking you to join me in sending this letter to the Senate Health Committee sharing why this program would be bad for Yolo County residents. You can read the full letter and add your name at the link below. https://forms.gle/RxGuKVYKCDYXitmz5
Dear Members of the Senate Committee on Health:
I am writing because of what I and fellow Yolo County residents see as a dire situation threatened by AB 1542 being passed into law. AB 1542 would force Yolo citizens with drug and alcohol dependencies into a coerced treatment program that is no different from, or more humane than, existing policies that harm a medically vulnerable population. AB 1542 is not consistent with Yolo County’s values, and would harm Yolo County residents suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and other mental health issues.
There are two reasons why AB 1542 is a disaster in the making for Yolo County. The first is that AB 1542’s proposed policies are the same as the failed policies for criminalizing drug and alcohol abuse for the past 50 years, and they will not work. The second reason is that AB 1542 will usurp badly needed funds from community programs with a track record of helping treat addiction issues. As discussed below, we cannot risk either outcome.
1. Coerced, Incarcerated ‘Treatment’ Is No Different From the Failed, Inhumane Policy Of Criminalizing Substance Abuse Disorder that Currently Exists
Involuntary, coerced treatment for drug or alcohol abuse has consistently proven the least useful method to address these issues. Best evidence from professionals in medicine and rehabilitation tells us that coerced programs are rarely followed by any increase in sobriety at all, and they will not alter the medical condition of a person who is coerced to attend this program as an “alternative” to incarceration.
Why has no one offered any information about the program that will be used under AB 1542?
Is it a best evidence-based program, or merely an afterthought to be created when the funds start to flow? Treatment of drug and alcohol dependency to alleviate homelessness, as proposed by the Yolo D.A.’s 5-point plan, cannot succeed without continued medication, aftercare, and shelter for the homeless and other medically vulnerable individuals.
The failure of the D.A.’s plan and AB 1542 to account for these requirements raises a host of questions:
- How will a system that has failed to offer any care or rehabilitation at all suddenly offer useful large-scale programs?
- Will this program, like many very successful local drug treatment programs, prescribe and distribute methadone or suboxone, which many medical professionals believe are the key to long term addiction control?
- How will the opioid distribution be handled in a custody situation?
- Does AB 1542 and the D.A.’s plan change who controls custodialization, or is it just a cynical virtue-signal to prop up failed drug policies in need of a political makeover? Treatment for drug use, which is only a small part of the needed approach to dealing with this medical issue, depends on the recipient's interest in recovery, not in satisfying coercion.
Treatment without specific medical care, access to services, and long-term shelter will only result in a return to self-medication upon release for persons from AB 1542’s non-consensual custody.
2. AB 1542 Will Steal Yolo’s Scarce Funds for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs, Which Have a Record of Success in Treating Yolo’s At-Risk Citizens.
The absence of intensive drug counseling and programming, including no low-cost inpatient programs, in the Yolo County community shows the need to make more funds available for that treatment, rather than diverting those funds into more incarceration of Yolo’s sick and vulnerable citizens. We must create more opportunities for helping our citizens with community resources, not more opportunities to incarcerate them. This county, the residents who are affected by the drug, alcohol, and homelessness issues either directly or indirectly, are crying out for more local community resources.
Existing, underfunded programs would serve the needs of Yolo’s sick and homeless populations far better than the coerced, custodial treatment called for by AB 1542. For example, the D.A. and other Yolo County offices could use the funds to collaborate with providers to develop a live-in rehabilitation program. The County could use the funds to increase its outreach through MediCare and provide treatment and crises care for people in need. Treatment for these serious medical issues could be provided by qualified professionals in the community.
These are the reasons that AB 1542 are antithetical to the needs of citizens of Yolo County. AB 1542 will do nothing to improve the quality of treatment for our community members, and will divert funds away from needed programs. Please do not ignore the needs and values of Yolo’s residents who deserve a community centered opportunity to heal the trauma of drug abuse and homelessness.
Thank you for your attention.
Cynthia Rodriguez is a former Public Defender and candidate for District Attorney in Yolo County.