Earlier this week, Governor Gavin Newsom asked the federal government for permission to use taxpayer money to pay for a program that would encourage negative drug tests with cash.
Frustrated by California’s steadily rising drug overdose death rate, executives want to pay people to stay sober. The federal government has been doing this for years with veterans, and studies have shown that it’s one of the most effective ways to get people to stop using hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, who do not have pharmaceutical treatments available.
Essentially, drug addicts would receive money or small incentives for each negative drug test over a period of time. If they can complete treatment without ever testing positive, they can earn a few hundred dollars. This is called “contingency management”.
Governor Gavin Newsom offers to use taxpayer money and pay it through Medicaid, which covers nearly 14 million people in California. A similar proposal is also going through the California legislature, passing the Senate unopposed. It is currently pending in the Assembly and even has a Republican co-author.
“I think there are a lot of things about this strategy that everyone likes,” said State Sen. Scott Wiener, Democrat of San Francisco and author of the bill. “Most important of all, it works.”
Depending on the number of people participating, the cost would vary. For example, if the program covered 1,000 people, it could cost as much as $286,000, although that figure is only a drop in the bucket compared to California’s operating budget of over $262. billions of dollars.
In some areas, emergency management programs are already in place. For example, the non-profit San Francisco AIDS Foundation has had success. In one case, Tyrone Clifford, who was previously addicted to methamphetamine, signed up because they promised to pay him for every negative test over 12 weeks.
He received $2 for his first negative test, and with each subsequent negative test he received a total of around $330.
“I thought I could do 12 weeks. I’ve done it before when my dealer was in jail,” he said. “When I’m done, I’ll have $330 to get high.”
However, Clifford passed the program without testing positive and that changed his mind. Instead of buying more medicine with the money, he bought a laptop so he could go back to school. Now he hasn’t used meth in more than 11 years and works as a counselor at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, where he helps people who have had the same addiction battle as he did.
Clifford said making money didn’t matter, but watching his account grow with each negative test motivated him to stay clean more than any other 12-step treatment or program.
“You watch these dollar values go up, there’s evidence that I’m doing this,” he said. “Under no circumstances is anyone getting rich from this program.”
Although the program does not work for everyone, the treatment includes extensive group and individual counseling sessions that empower people and make them feel like part of a community. If California began emergency management treatments through Medicaid, similar programs would explode across the state.
Like most countries, California has struggled with the grip of opioid abuse, but more so with stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine. Between 2010 and 2019, deaths from stimulants quadrupled and have since worsened.
In the first nine months of 2020, stimulant overdose deaths increased by 42% compared to 2019 data. Although there are treatment options for opioids, there are currently none available for stimulants, leaving people on their own to get rid of the habit.
“There’s kind of an obvious gap in treatment services for people with stimulant use disorder,” said Jacey Cooper, director of the California Medicaid program. “At this point (contingency management) is the only thing people are reporting that has been effective.”
In a state where psychedelics may soon be fully legalized and the cannabis industry is booming, it is important to examine this area and fill in the gaps to promote a safer environment in California. Cannabis has also been shown to help drug addicts recover from addictionbut with laws and bureaucracy, it’s a far cry from considering cannabis in a state or federally funded program.
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