Biden May Legalize “Modern Opium Dens”
Harlem residents, parents of the homeless, and recovering addicts are urging the president to just say no to pro-addiction policies
A Note From Michael Shellenberger and Leighton Woodhouse
With this article, we are happy to announce the creation of Public, our new Substack publication. We decided to create it because the mainstream media can’t be trusted, and when the two of us report together, we make things happen.
Over the last year, our reporting was instrumental in forcing San Francisco Mayor London Breed to close the illegal supervised drug consumption site she opened in downtown San Francisco and, a few weeks later, forcing California Governor Gavin Newsom to veto a bill that would have legalized drug sites statewide.
Our reporting wasn’t the only thing that forced the mayor and governor to act. Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Death protested in front of the site. The California Peace Coalition offered a recovery-based vision as an alternative to California’s pro-addiction policies. And our run for governor drew international attention to the underlying insanity of California’s approach to drugs, crime, and homelessness.
But our reporting was essential to all of those things happening. While the mainstream media wrote propaganda story after propaganda story about San Francisco’s approach to homelessness, the two of us, along with Erica Sandberg, went inside the “Tenderloin Linkage Center” and were the first to report it was being used as an illegal drug consumption site, a story that exploded into international headlines.
And our work has gone beyond investigative reporting to include explanatory journalism and public interest journalism, including shining a light on the work of vital groups like the Mothers and the Peace Coalition.
Our inaugural piece is, in the spirit of Public, simultaneously investigative, explanatory, and inspiring. It exposes the financial scam at the heart of San Francisco’s self-destruction. It explains the pathological ideological motivations. And it describes what it will take for America to recover from the worst drug crisis in world history.
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— Michael Shellenberger and Leighton Woodhouse
President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice (DoJ) may soon allow “supervised drug consumption sites,” where taxpayer-funded healthcare workers assist anyone over the age of 18 to inject or smoke fentanyl and other hard drugs. In response to a lawsuit by a group in Philadelphia that wants to open a drug-use site, the Justice Department said in early December that it would make a decision within eight weeks.
Advocates of such sites say that they have been used to successfully prevent overdose deaths in Amsterdam, Netherlands, which also gives addicts a safe supply of heroin. But the city of Amsterdam gives heroin to fewer than 150 people total, and only after every other treatment, including methadone and suboxone, has failed. And Dutch drug sites, like the nation’s overall approach to addiction, are aimed at helping addicts to overcome, not simply maintain, their addictions.
The two of us have long publicly supported many so-called “harm reduction” strategies, including the use of Narcan to revive people from opioid overdose, needle exchanges to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS, and even supervised drug consumption sites when they are in systems, like the ones in the Netherlands and Portugal, that encourage recovery.
But neither the Biden Administration nor the Justice Department is proposing any such recovery-based system. As such, if Biden’s Justice Department caves in to the group in Philadelphia, we could see supervised drug consumption sites spread into every major American city, encouraging rather than discouraging open-air drug dealing, drug use, and the homelessness that stems from it.
That’s what happened when San Francisco opened a supervised drug site inside the now-shuttered “Tenderloin Linkage Center,” in January 2022. Drug dealers — almost all of them from Honduras, working for the Sinaloa cartel, and in the United States illegally — set up shop directly across the street. And all around them, and the Center, were hundreds of people smoking fentanyl, meth, and other hard drugs.
The same thing happened around a drug site in Harlem. “The clinics and injection sites have had the unintentional side effect of bringing dealers around,” a Harlem resident told The City last month. “I have witnessed things I’ve never seen before, including brazenly open dealing, people defecating (in broad daylight), users with needles openly using injection drugs … and even a man receiving oral sex between parked cars,” said another resident. “It looked like something out of a zombie movie,” said another.
The same chaos has plagued drug sites across Canada. Two representatives of the provincial government of Alberta told us earlier this week that they plan to shut down a supervised drug consumption site due to its record of failure and its disruption of the neighborhood around it.
The record is clear. Around the world, when supervised drug-use sites operate within systems that promote addiction maintenance instead of addiction recovery, open-air drug dealing, drug use, and overdose deaths all increase. Why, then, is President Biden seriously considering legalizing them?
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