S.F. May Force Mentally Ill Addicts Into Treatment

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San Francisco supervisors are considering a proposal that could force drug addicts with serious mental illnesses into treatment, the Associated Press reports. Mayor London Breed and other supporters say “conservatorship” is necessary to help addicts who are often homeless and suffering from a mental illness, making them a danger to themselves. They say fewer than 50 people would be forced into treatment. Critics call the measure a violation of civil rights that runs against the principles of the liberal city. They say San Francisco lacks the services and shelter to expand the number of people in such a program. The city faces a growing number of homeless people, some with disturbing street behavior fueled by drugs, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

They shuffle from the streets to jail and psychiatric care, unaware they need steady treatment, sometimes dashing into traffic or screaming at strangers. State Sen. Scott Wiener coauthored state legislation allowing five-year pilot programs for forced treatment in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego counties. The plan would allow a court to appoint a public conservator for someone who has been involuntarily detained for psychiatric hospitalization at least eight times in a year. The treatment could last as long as a year. San Francisco’s public health department has identified 55 people who fit the definition and another 48 people who have been detained six or seven times. Jen Flory of the Western Center on Law and Policy says her organization opposes the San Francisco measure, citing insufficient services available to make it work. She hopes people are offered outpatient services with fewer restrictions. “These are very difficult people to house, but what works is to continually try to work with somebody until something works,” she said. “We don’t know of forced models that work.”

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