California Lawmakers Told Treatment, Not Punishment, Will End Fentanyl Crisis

By Leslie Acevedo

SAN FRANCISCO,  CA – California lawmakers heard testimony urging treatment, not punishment, should be used to resolve the fentanyl crisis after members of the state Public Health and Safety committees held a joint hearing last week on how the state has been dealing with the problem, according to a story in Courthouse News Service.

Aisha Wahab of Hayward and Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton, Democratic state senators, led the joint committee hearing, emphasizing the difficulty of dealing with addiction.

Joseph Friedman, a doctoral candidate at UCLA who studies the U.S. overdose crisis, testified, adding, “A lot of people are really struggling and believe this is an unfair country to live in.”

According to 2021 statistics from the California Department of Public Health, “There were 6,843 opioid-related overdose deaths in California, and 5,722 of them were linked to fentanyl, as 224 teens aged 15 to 19 died from fentanyl-related overdoses in the state,” said Courthouse News.

Friedman told the committee, “The largest numbers of fentanyl-related deaths occur among Black and Native American individuals, followed by Latinos and non-Hispanic white people [having to be seen as a racial justice issue].”

Darren Urada, principal investigator for UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Program, noted, said Courthouse News, how essential it is to make it easy to get those in treatment, needing them “to get them into the right place, the right level of care.” 

The speakers agreed law enforcement is not the solution to the problem, despite that state “Senator Janet Nguyen of Orange County, the Republican vice-chair of the Senate Health Committee, wanted something more definitive than calls for more assistance.”

Friedman noted, “California spends more on law enforcement than on social services and health care,” while other countries have been able to heavily invest in social services and health care.

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said answers do not lie in the “failed War on Drugs” policies that led to mass incarceration and negative consequences on marginalized communities, and said she wanted a public health approach.

Glenn Backes, a public policy consultant and researcher at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, argued the state’s priorities have been skewed, as “dramatic differences in cost between jailing drug users — $150,000 per year — versus $6,000 to $7,000 per patient per year for treatment.”

Backes added, said Courthouse News, the current system took punishment seriously as little progress has been made because “we did not take drugs seriously.”

About The Author

Leslie Acevedo is a senior undergraduate student at California State University, Long Beach, majoring in Criminology/Criminal Justice. She intends to pursue a Master's Degree in Forensic Science or Criminal Justice. She aspires to become a forensic investigator.

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