Councilwoman Nithya Raman hosted a panel addressing homelessness and the methamphetamine epidemic in Los Angeles on Aug. 19, but some residents are critical of the panel’s “harm reduction” policies and say it only encourages more drug use.
Methamphetamines are long-acting stimulants to the nervous system that release more dopamine in the brain than other substances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated there were 70,630 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2019, while in that same year, two million Americans reported having used methamphetamine in the previous year.
“Evidence suggests that meth use has been on the rise in California,” Raman said. “These numbers signify an emergency—one we need to address with bold, urgent, and broad solutions.”
Raman, who represents the 4th district, was joined by Dr. David Goodman, a UCLA physician who specializes in substance use and addiction, and Soma Snakeoil, executive director of homeless activist organization The Sidewalk Project, and Armando Gudiño of Drug Policy Alliance LA.
Goodman spoke of possible treatments for methamphetamine users. Effective treatments for opioid addictions have been developed, but treatment methods for drugs like opioids are not as effective for methamphetamines.
Goodman said that while the drug fentanyl is the “big killer” on the East Coast, “methamphetamine is king” of the West Coast.
Because most research funders are from the East Coast, research on methamphetamine treatment is still in development. However, Goodman said there are two preliminary treatments that have come up recently but must still undergo trials.
Snakeoil spoke of her experience working with methamphetamine users. She contrasted an approach of “harm reduction” to traditional approaches.
“We have to rethink how we think of people who use drugs as bad people,” she said. “That pushes people into shame-based situations where they use alone, and that’s when they die.”
She said she believed harm reduction is a “social justice movement” that believes in the “dignity of people who use drugs,” and advocated for a change in public health policies and procedures to support people who use drugs with health-based measures, instead of “criminalizing drug use.”
Gudiño said he’s trying to bring these harm reduction policies, including SB-57, a bill that would authorize overdose prevention sites, to the state. Gudiño said many past drug policies were “defined by your access to resources, your race, your color.”
“I take it a step further and argue that it’s criminalization that actually leads to these types of overdoses, in part because it creates the stigma, it creates a culture of truth based on perception, by which others choose to apply policy, fear, intimidation, a dislike for one’s culture, race, ethnicity, color,” Gudiño said.
Some residents who tuned in to the meeting’s livestream online expressed their opposition to panelists’ comments regarding racism and criminalization of drug use.
“We citizens do not care what color the drug dealer is. No one trafficking meth and fentanyl should get off simply because they’re not white,” one resident commented.
“Unfortunately, what I am hearing from everyone on the panel is, ‘It’s ok to do drugs; let’s make it more okay and safe to do drugs by providing a place for them to come to use drugs.’ That will not handle the addiction. We need an effective drug education and prevention program. We need to stop people from getting into drugs, not make it more okay for them to do it,” another resident wrote.
Raman is currently the subject of a recall campaign by residents who disapprove of her handling of housing and homelessness in the district. The Recall Raman Political Action Committee opposed Raman’s sanctioning of Griffith Park as a relocation place for homeless people who were moved from Echo Park.
The Recall Raman Political Action Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment by press deadline.