A Senate bill that would give cash rewards to meth addicts who pass drug tests and stay sober was sent to Committee after amendments were added earlier this week.
Gift cards for meth recovery
According to Senate Bill 888, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), addicts would receive gift cards to grocery stores or pharmacies upon passing a drug test. It would only be given for a limited time for each addict and tests would be spaced out for certain windows so that enough time has passed to make sure the drugs can still show up in a drug screening to make sure the addict is still not using, while also making sure the system itself isn’t being abused. The overall goal is to have addicts be weaned off of meth in time.
The program would be funded by Medi-Cal through extent funds in the annual Budget Act. Those going through the ‘positive reinforcement opportunity project’ would also receive counseling according to SB 888.
Supporters of the bill said that this is simply a measure to fight the skyrocketing number of meth users in California and would encourage people to stay in recovery to get clean. Meth overdoses in the U.S. tripled between 2011 and 2016.
“I introduced legislation to address meth addiction, for which there’s no medical treatment,” said Senator Wiener in a tweet. “SB 888 legalizes Medi-Cal coverage for “contingency management”, cash incentives to stay in meth recovery. It’s a proven method to help people get & stay sober.”
“If we can avoid emergency room admissions by giving someone, you know, whatever it is a $30 or $50 gift card to a grocery store or to a pharmacy for toiletries, that’s a major cost saver this is a cost saver to the system,” added Wiener in a later press conference.
I introduced legislation to address meth addiction, for which there’s no medical treatment.
SB 888 legalizes Medi-Cal coverage for “contingency management” – $ incentives to stay in meth recovery.
It’s a proven method to help people get & stay sober. https://t.co/nwg7GhaUiD
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) February 26, 2020
Supporters like Wiener also point out the fact that there is already an almost identical program in San Francisco that has gotten positive results.
The San Francisco meth treatment program has had 63% of users in the program become clean, with another 19% reducing their use. Costs are also limited to $330 over the 12 week program.
For a statewide program the costs would be similar, with Senator Wiener mentioning gift cards to be given out being between $30 and $50.
Problems and flaws with SB 888
Opponents have been skeptical of such a program working on a wide-scale and have pointed out flaws within the proposed program.
“It’s good for the short-term, but it’s not a long-term solution,” noted “Peyton,” a former crystal meth addict who has been a sponsor and is currently a leader of one of the largest Crystal Meth Anonymous groups in the state. “Do they have any idea what the relapse rate is for crystal meth users is? It’s 61% officially, but I’ve helped out in groups that were much higher than that.”
“Like most addictions treatment needs to be comprehensive. You need to get off but you also need continual support. Crystal Meth Anonymous helps with that, but we’re just one piece of the puzzle. For example you need help finding healthy outlets for stress or grief or whatever made you start using in the first place and you need to see a counselor often. Getting money to get off it is just that. You aren’t cured. They’re making it seem like it’s that easy.”
“Also, a lot of people don’t like seeing taxpayer money go to drug addicts in general. It’s taken years for the majority of people to be okay with funding treatment clinics and funding other programs. Do you have any idea how they’ll feel by literally putting money in their hands? And I’ve seen this happen with addicts. They get a gift card for $25 or $50 and they’ll sell it for a fraction of the cost just to get hard money to buy something that’s cash only. At best it’s cigarettes or alcohol. You can imagine what else.”
“But we have to remember there are also addicts who really do want to get out of addiction for their kids and family or to have a better life. They aren’t lost causes,” stressed Peyton. “We should put more money into longer-term programs to help them out. Gift cards won’t solve anything. I like how San Francisco’s program doesn’t mention relapse or any kind of continued treatment longer than 12 weeks, because true treatment is longer. We need to put resources towards treatment that takes them off for good.”
SB 888 is currently in Committee and is expected to be heard on a larger scale this spring.