San Francisco program uses cash rewards to help meth addicts stay clean

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – State Senator Scott Wiener is proposing that Medi-Cal help pay for programs that give meth addicts cash rewards, like gift cards, for staying clean.

One local harm reduction program has been using that exact method for helping get people off meth for nearly a decade.

Meth addiction is becoming an increasingly visible problem in San Francisco.

Since 2008, meth overdoses have shot up 500% and often those out of their minds on the drugs end up in the Emergency Room.  

“In San Francisco, one-half of all psych emergency rooms admissions are meth-related,” Wiener said.

Wiener introduced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Medi-Cal to fund programs using what’s called Contingency Management Intervention, like what the San Francisco Aids Foundation has been doing for the past nine years.

Those who enroll in their positive reinforcement opportunity project get counseling and cash credits in the form of gift cards every time their urine tests come back negative for stimulants.  

The amounts are nominal, maxing out at $330 over the 12-week program. 

Their director of harm reduction says it’s been very successful.

“Over one year, of the people who enter the program, 63% ended their meth-use through the program and another at 19% reduced their meth-use so a total of 82% of people who entered the program end it or reduced their meth-use and their goals that they set for themselves, that sounds affected to me,” Laura Thomas said.

“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,” Wiener said.

Those involved with this type of intervention says because unlike opioid addiction, which can be treated with drugs, like methadone or buprenorphine, there is currently no medical treatment for meth.

This means positive reinforcements programs using gift cards as an incentive is one of the best options out there right now for helping people get off this very addictive substance.

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