Inside A San Francisco Drug Den

 Authored by Tony Hall via The Epoch Times,

To anyone vaguely familiar with the colorful history of San Francisco in Victorian times, the mere mention of an “opium den” conjures up visions of dimly lit enclaves deep in the catacombs of Chinatown where hundreds of people languished about in self-induced euphoric stupors.

A scene from an old-time Chinatown opium den. (All Things Interesting)
A scene from an old-time Chinatown opium den. (All Things Interesting)

Well, guess what, folks - the concept of the clandestine drug den operation is back, only this time it is being sponsored by the city and promoted by those particularly ambitious politicians seeking fame and fortune, and it is providing a menu that is far more reaching than just opium.

Several weeks ago, I was able to sneak into the Tenderloin Center located right in the middle of San Francisco at 1172 Market and Leavenworth, at UN Plaza. Not everyone is allowed in. This is the same Tenderloin Linkage Center that was the centerpiece of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s much-touted plan to eradicate drug use, reduce overdose deaths, and “link” addicts to rehabilitation services.

With the exception of the common areas for showering and outdoor meals, this facility is specifically designed for the consumption of illegal drugs purchased by addicts in the black market. It is a drug den where anybody and everybody can come in to ingest, inject, smoke, or inhale any type of illegal drug that they themselves have acquired off the street from the black market.

You might be asking how this “bait and switch” plan became a reality in San Francisco.

When Mayor Breed announced the opening of the Tenderloin Linkage Center in January, she touted it as a “safe, welcoming space for those ready to access San Francisco’s health and human service resources easily and quickly.”

The idea, according to Breed and other city officials, was to create an easy path for those suffering from drug addiction or mental illness to be “linked” to services. The mayor’s wildly publicized plan included an “Overdose Prevention Facility” where showers and a hot meal could be had along with the ability to engage in any type of drug use in a supervised and safe environment with clean needles and sterilized drug paraphernalia supplied by the city.

The mere fact that this new Center promised to provide “linkage” to additional services such as drug treatment, counseling, and rehabilitation was enough to prevent it from being classified as a “safe injection site,” as such sites are currently illegal by both federal and state laws.

According to city records, the facility catered to some 49,000 users in the first five months of this year but only made 53 referrals to substance abuse treatment. How is that for delivering on promises?

No wonder the mayor is embarrassed. The most important aspect of the whole program, the referral process for drug treatment, was totally ignored in favor of providing a space to get loaded!

The Center has dropped the word “Linkage” from its name and become the “Tenderloin Center” because it was not even marginally successful at linking many addicts to real treatment.

During the course of my visit to the Center, I was able to personally witness what was going on in the facility and its nearby surroundings. Make no doubt about it—it is still operating as a full-on illegal drug consumption site. Within several hundred yards of the facility, open-air drug transactions are taking place between black market dealers and addicts.

It soon became obvious to some of the “guards” lurking about the place that I was not a user or a “client,” so I was asked to leave. Outsiders, including journalists and reporters, are not allowed in.

Before leaving, I witnessed a scene that one could only imagine in a third-world environment. Dozens of drug-addled human beings were wandering and strewn about the premises, both inside the building and immediately outside on the public sidewalk, in varied states of nervousness, anticipation, agitation, coma, and euphoria.

Upon exiting the facility, I noted that no one was in the booth that was supposed to be making referrals for drug addiction and treatment.

Compared to the streets, this is a relatively safe environment for the addicts, with different types of security loitering about to help if any situation gets out of hand. There is also a medical doctor available and several certified medical technicians (CMTs) whose job it is to monitor the drug consumption to prevent overdose.

Outside the Center, I was approached by one of the CMTs, who was on her lunch break, and we engaged in conversation about the facility. Being a homeless advocate, she was quick to opine that since the majority of people visiting the Center were homeless, a facility like the consumption site would not need to exist if society would just provide them all with a place to live and a roof over their heads.

I couldn’t understand her correlation between a roof over someone’s head versus where they are shooting up, so I diverted the conversation to more pertinent facts, since she had been employed there since January.

She told me that in January the drug facility was seeing about 50 people per day and the occasional overdose. Now, in August and September, the number of users who visit the site is about 200 per day with one or two daily overdoses requiring ambulance service to hospitals for outside treatment, she said.

I asked her why there was a big increase in the number of users.

She wasn’t sure but speculated that the use of fentanyl, a cheaply produced synthetic opioid from China and trafficked through Mexico, was to blame. A “fix” of fentanyl is extremely cheap on the black market, and it can be ingested in any form or as an additive to other drugs. Depending upon dilution, it can be 80 times more deadly than heroin and can sell for as little as $15 to $30 per hit. Opium or heroin can be 10 times more expensive.

At this point, we were joined by a person who identified himself as one of the doctors. After his rant about the scourge of homelessness, he informed me that the Center does not have the ability to test as to the type of drug or what mixture of drugs is being consumed.

He said the doctors and CMTs can only rely on what the addicts tell them they have purchased on the street from dealers, so their reaction to any overdose can only be passive. In many overdose cases, the doctors and the addicts are “shooting in the dark,” so to speak, when it comes to identifying the substance used in the overdose.

That is why the advent of fentanyl is so dangerous—it is cheap to produce, is readily available, can be mixed with anything as an additive, and requires specific chemicals to counteract an overdose.

There is no doubt in my mind that all we are accomplishing by allowing such a facility to exist is to further encourage and accommodate illegal drug use, as evidenced by today’s numbers of users and their ages.

Granted, they have saved some of the lives of those who overdosed, and that is commendable because you can’t put a price on a life. However, dealing with overdoses can be accomplished in a much different environment rather than setting the stage for hundreds of people to use illegal drugs daily in the first place.

As has been too often the case with this administration, the Tenderloin (Linkage) Center is just another shallow attempt to make the public think that the mayor is actually doing something about drug use in San Francisco. It has turned out to be nothing more than another failed program, long on publicity but short on substance.

The bottom line is that you, the taxpayers, are paying undisclosed millions of dollars for the operation of a facility that allows consumption of illegal drugs and usually does not even offer a hope of treatment for the rehabilitation of addicts.

In my article “A Solution to America’s Drug Crisis,” which first appeared in The Epoch Times on May 2, 2022, I outlined a program to effectively combat this disease that is killing well over 750,000 people every year and growing at a rate of over 30 percent per year. It is a crisis that is increasingly killing our youth and rapidly destroying our standard of living due to the crime that it involves. Please look the article up, as it is too long to reprint here.

In short, we will never conquer our drug crisis unless we first eradicate the profit in the black market that feeds it and enslaves our youth.

Studies indicate that most addicts, when given the choice, would prefer to kick their habits but don’t know how or where to turn to satisfy their addictions. So they turn to crime to raise money for drugs, because that is the only alternative they have, and so the vicious cycle continues.

We already have many synthetic alternatives that doctors use to wean a person off an addictive illegal drug and to counteract overdosing, such as Methadone, Narcan, and other prescriptions. These alternative substances and prescriptions are only available under the strictest of circumstances and regulations, as they should be. The problem is that they are not available to the average addict unless he or she is under a doctor’s care in a controlled environment.

If we were to administer these alternative prescriptions under strict regulation and supervision in existing public health centers or in one of the many drug referral centers throughout the country, we would be providing those addicts who volunteer for the treatment a chance to wean themselves off their habit. This would greatly eliminate their need to engage in crime to satisfy their habit, as the service would be free, and it would begin to collapse the profit that is feeding the black market.

For those addicts who lack the will or refuse to undergo such treatment, as a last resort we can give them what they need to satisfy their craving, again under strict supervision and regulation, be the product legal or illegal in nature, as it costs us very little to produce. At least this keeps them from committing crime to get the drugs from the black market and keeps them from dying on the street. Is this not a more humanitarian approach than what we are currently doing?

Bear in mind that this would not be a program to legalize drugs!

On the contrary, it would be a program designed to reduce dependency on illegal drugs, reduce overdoses, eliminate the crime associated with the purchase of illegal drugs on the black market, and give the addicts a way to wean themselves off this terrible scourge.

For this program to work, we must embark on an extensive educational approach that schools our youngsters on the pitfalls and horrors of drug addiction.

Lastly, we must vigorously enforce all drug laws by seriously penalizing anyone caught dealing or possessing what is now an illegal substance.

I know this approach may frighten some while being over-simplistic to others, but think it through. We simply cannot afford to go on avoiding a bold approach to a problem of this magnitude that is only getting worse. This approach, with updated modifications, may be our best effort, as what we are allowing to happen now is not working.

A final thought: Do not listen to the politicians who are so out of touch with the realities of life that they themselves don’t know or care how their legislative proposals can hurt society.

Thankfully, and oddly enough, State Senator Scott Wiener’s recent legislative bill SB 57 calling for the legalization of “safe injection sites” in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland was vetoed by another great supporter of safe injection sites, our governor. That was only because he was worried that it might affect his image nationwide should he run for president.

There is no other way to describe what is happening in our city and state except to recognize it for what it really is: bad public policy that is based on stupidity or ignorance, callousness or insensitivity, or possibly a desire to capitalize on other people’s misery for political purposes.

*  *  *

Tony Hall is a former supervisor for San Francisco's District 7. He has held executive and administrative positions positions in seven different city departments in all three branches of government over a 33-year period.

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