SAN FRANCISCO—Freelance journalist and consumer-finance expert, Erica Sandberg went undercover as a drug user to understand the concept of harm-reduction, in her report San Francisco’s Deadly Compassion. Harm reduction is a policy that organizations in San Francisco have adopted in order to cope with the city’s unsafe drug use, which was also linked to the AIDS epidemic. Harm-reduction focuses more on making sure a user has access to safe supplies such as sterilized needles and syringes, and less on trying to get someone clean.

Most harm reduction programs started in the late 80s and early 90s, in hopes to slow the spread of AIDS. While providing clean drug supplies has aided to slow the spread of HIV, drug overdoses have been significantly increasing in San Francisco every year. A report released by the San Francisco Department of Public Health shows that there was a 70 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2017-2018, and the results for 2018-2019 are expected to increase once all the data comes out.

Sandberg concluded in her report that these organizations do more harm than good by promoting and normalizing heavy drug use.

“Not one person asked if I was interested in treatment. No one discussed detox or gave me a flyer with listings for local 12-step meetings. No one inquired about my physical or psychological wellbeing. I could have anything I wanted—except for help getting off drugs,” Sandberg reported.

In just one day Sandberg walked away with 170 needles after visiting three different organizations. In August 1990, all limits on the number of syringes that could be accessed were lifted. According to the SF Aids Foundation, throwing out limitations on drug supplies kept users from sharing needles which helped slow the AIDS epidemic.

Pictures on the SF Aids foundation’s website

“Harm reduction has mutated from ameliorating the collateral negative effects of addiction to promoting drug use as a positive lifestyle choice,” Sandberg stated in her report.

Pictures on the SF HIV foundation’s website

A report by the San Francisco Department of Public Health states that harm reduction programs such as, Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (DOPE)  aided in decreasing overdoses. DOPE has recorded 1,765 life-saving overdose reversals using naloxone in the first nine months of 2019.