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Recovery Incentives Act, confronting Meth & overdose crisis passes

SB 110 authorizes Medi-Cal to fund evidence-based treatment giving those struggling with addiction financial rewards for staying sober

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

SACRAMENTO — Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) legislation, Senate Bill 110, passed both the Assembly and the Senate on concurrence with bipartisan, unanimous votes. It will now head to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and then to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, where it can be signed into law.

SB 110 will address the worsening methamphetamine addiction crisis facing in the state. The Recovery Incentives Act legalizes the substance use disorder treatment known as “contingency management,” and authorizes Medi-Cal to cover it. Contingency management has proven to be the most effective method of treatment for methamphetamine addiction, and is frequently used as a treatment program by the Veterans Affairs Administration. This intervention program gives those struggling with substance use disorder financial rewards if they enter substance use treatment programs, stay in the program, and get and remain sober. This positive reinforcement helps people reduce and even fully stop substance use.

In the Biden-Harris administration’s new drug policy platform, increasing access to evidence-based treatment was slated as the number one priority. This includes contingency management. The platform cites the need to end “policy barriers related to contingency management interventions (motivational incentives) for stimulant use disorder” as part of its effort to expand evidence-based treatment.

There is currently no form of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for meth, unlike with opioids where treatment options such as methadone are available. Contingency management is thus a critical tool in addressing the meth addiction crisis. According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), since 2008, meth overdose deaths in San Francisco have increased by 500%. Additionally, 50% of psychiatric emergency room admissions at San Francisco General Hospital are now meth-related. These disturbing statistics demonstrate the urgency with which San Francisco and other communities must address this epidemic.

With drug overdose deaths on the rise across the country, the state, and in San Francisco — San Francisco had a record number of overdose deaths in 2020 — effective substance use intervention programs are more important than ever. In San Francisco, according to data collected in 2019, roughly 60% of all overdose deaths were meth-related.

Meth use has spiked all over California and in San Francisco, and worsened through the COVID-19 pandemic. With social isolation, mental health issues like depression, and economic suffering all worse for many than in prior years, meth use has also increased significantly. Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency on March 12th, The Hill reports that patients across the country “tested positive for methamphetamines at a roughly 20 percent higher rate between March and May than previous samples.”

Stimulant use has also grown rapidly in the LGBTQ and Black communities, which were already deeply impacted by the meth crisis. The LGBTQ community — particularly gay, bi and trans men — have seen a rapid increase in meth use as a party drug taken to enhance sexual experiences. SFDPH also reports that the mortality rate is highest among African American men.

Programs like the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s PROP (Positive Reinforcement Opportunity Project) program – in which LGBTQ men who used meth are given gift cards for staying sober – are found to be highly effective. According to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, in one year of the PROP program, 63% of participants stopped using meth entirely and another 19% reduced their use. This approach, coupled with community support meetings, proves time and again to be an effective method of treating meth addiction. Veterans Affairs hospitals throughout the state also use contingency management programs with success. This bill intends to make these programs accessible on a wider scale by authorizing them to be reimbursable by Medi-Cal.

The bill would also require the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to issue guidance on the use of contingency management programs for Medi-Cal patients.

The bill is sponsored by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, APLA Health, Equality California, the City and County of San Francisco, and the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives (CAADPE).

“We’re seeing meth overdose deaths skyrocket, and it’s clear that we need creative solutions for our addiction crisis,” said Senator Wiener. “We know that contingency management works; it’s one of the only effective and evidence-based treatments for stimulant addiction. Meth addiction is difficult to kick, and contingency management can help. We have every responsibility to help people succeed in abstaining from drugs that can be harmful to them and everyone in their community. Allowing state Medicaid funds to reimburse contingency management programs is an important step, and it’s something upon which legislators on both sides of the aisle can agree.”

“Discrimination, stigma and shame are all barriers that prevent too many LGBTQ+ people from receiving the treatment they need to overcome meth use and addition. Enough is enough.” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur. “I’m grateful that the California Assembly took bold action today to increase access to a proven, evidence-based solution to this crisis. Thanks to Senator Scott Wiener’s visionary leadership, The Recovery Incentives Act will improve and save the lives of countless LGBTQ+ Californians.”

“CSAM, California’s physician specialists in evidence based treatment, is proud to support this important bill which expands the use of contingency management for stimulant use disorder in California,” said CSAM President Dr. Anthony Albanese. “Currently there is no medication proven to treat stimulant use disorder, Contingency management is therefore a critical component of treatment.”

“Contingency management programs are proven to help individuals maintain their health and are an effective relapse prevention strategy, by giving those struggling with substance use disorders positive reinforcement to remain in treatment,” said Al Senella, President, California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives (CAADPE).

“With drug overdose deaths on the rise, effective substance use programs are now more important than ever – especially for the LGBTQ+ community,” said APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig E. Thompson. “In Los Angeles County alone, meth-related deaths increased over 900% from 2008 to 2018 and meth is now linked to more deaths than any other drug. SB 110 is a timely and urgent measure that will expand access to highly effective contingency management services and save lives. We applaud Senator Wiener for championing this critical issue and urge Governor Newsom to sign the bill into law as soon as possible.”

“Behind the rise in opioid overdose deaths in California lurks a rise in deaths by stimulant overdose,” stated Vitka Eisen, President and CEO of HealthRIGHT 360. “We must use every available evidence-based intervention in order to address this challenge. Contingency management has a strong body of research supporting its effectiveness in treating methamphetamine addiction. The passage of SB 110 will give us an additional tool that can immediately save lives.”

“With an overdose crisis that gets worse every year, it’s time to invest in programs and services that we know will prevent overdose and improve the health and lives of people who use drugs,” said Kevin Rogers, interim CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “The success of our PROP program, which takes a harm reduction approach to help people who use stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine reduce and stop their use, and many other contingency management programs demonstrates the positive impact these programs can have if they are scaled up and replicated. SFAF strongly supports SB 110, and we call on the Governor to sign this important bill into law. Thank you Senator Wiener for your leadership on this effort.”

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California

Black & Trans people more often searched during police stops in California

Officers used force against people perceived as Black at 2.6 times the rate of individuals perceived as White

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Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies making an arrest. (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

SACRAMENTO – Newly data released in the fifth annual California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report last Friday, revealed that traffic and pedestrian stops by law enforcement agencies dropped significantly in 2020 compared to the year before.

However, the data collection effort found that Black or transgender people were still more likely to be searched than white or cisgender people by California police officers.

California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report: People perceived as Black were searched at 2.4 times the rate of people perceived as White

The Advisory Board collected, examined, and collated data from 18 law enforcement agencies, including the 15 largest agencies in the state on approximately 2.9 million vehicle and pedestrian stops. 

The state’s largest law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, provided data for the report. But CHP’s data was not included in the section of the report analyzing stops based on gender identity due to a reporting error.

The data includes how law enforcement officers perceive an individual’s race or gender, even if it’s different than how the person identifies, because the officer’s perception is what drives bias. This was especially noted in data regarding those people perceived to be transgender women which were 2.5 times more likely to be searched than women who appear to be cisgender.

“This fifth annual report from the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board provides important analysis of police stops, use of force, and the differential experiences with law enforcement of California’s diverse communities,” said Steven Raphael, Co-Chair of the Board and Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.

“The data collection effort has been building towards and will soon achieve universal reporting of stops, uses of force, and civilian complaints from all law enforcement agencies in the state, setting a new national standard for transparency. The analysis in this year’s report breaks new ground on the experiences with law enforcement of those with mental and physical disabilities, the experiences of members of the LGBTQ+ community, in addition to the detailed analysis of stop outcomes by race, ethnicity, and gender contained in past reports,” Raphael pointed out.

“The data in this and future reports is critical to fostering dialogue between California residents and law enforcement and will also inform policy devoted to ensuring fair and bias-free policing practices. I am grateful for the tireless work of the DOJ legal and research staff as well as for the efforts and dedication of fellow board members and members of the public who participate in our meetings throughout the year,” he added.

All law enforcement agencies in California are required to commence reporting the data in 2023. The board’s work informs agencies, the state’s police office training board and state lawmakers as they change policies and seek to decrease racial disparities and bias in policing.

Los Angeles Blade file photo via LAPD

“The data in this report will be used by our profession to evaluate our practices as we continue to strive for police services that are aligned with our communities’ expectations of service,” said Chief David Swing, Co-Chair of the Board and Past-President of the California Police Chiefs Association.

“Our goal is that information in this report will result in collaborative conversations that strengthen partnerships and relationships with the communities we serve. Thank you to my colleagues on the Board and the staff of the Department of Justice for your contributions and commitment to enhancing policing in California.”

In a review of the data disclosed by the Advisory Board included:

  • Number of Stops: In 2020, 18 law enforcement agencies, including the 15 largest agencies in California, collected data on approximately 2.9 million vehicle and pedestrian stops. This represents a 26.5% reduction in comparison to the number of stops reported in 2019, most likely as a result of COVID-19.
  • Search Rates: People who were perceived as Black were searched at 2.4 times the rate of people perceived as White. Overall, officers searched 18,777 more people perceived as Black than those perceived as White. In addition, transgender women were searched at 2.5 times the rate of individuals perceived to be cisgender women.
  • Result of Stop: At the conclusion of a stop, officers must report the outcome, e.g., no action taken, warning or citation given, or arrest. For individuals perceived as Black, officers reported “no action taken” 2.3 times as often as they did for individuals perceived as White, indicating that a higher rate of those stopped who were perceived as Black were not actually engaged in unlawful activity.
  • Use of Force Rates: Officers used force against people perceived as Black at 2.6 times the rate of individuals perceived as White. In addition, officers used force against individuals perceived to have a mental health disability at 5.2 times the rate of individuals perceived not to have a disability.
  • Traffic Violation Stops: A higher proportion of traffic violation stops of people perceived as Hispanic or Black were for non-moving or equipment violations as compared to individuals who were perceived as White. For instance, the proportion of such stops initiated for window obstruction violations was nearly 2.5 times higher for people perceived as Hispanic and 1.9 times higher for people perceived as Black as compared to people perceived as White.
  • Population Comparison: Using data from the 2019 American Community Survey, people who were perceived as Black were overrepresented in the stop data by 10 percentage points and people perceived as White or Asian were underrepresented by three and nine percentage points, respectively, as compared to weighted residential population estimates.

Of all the recorded stops in 2020, 40% of people were believed to be Hispanic, 16.5% Black, 31.7% white, 5.2% Asian, and 4.7% Middle Eastern or South Asian. Black people make up just 6.5% of the state’s population. Officers stopped 445,000 more white people than Black people, but took action against 9,431 more Black people, according to the report.

Overall, Black people were most likely to be searched, detained, handcuffed and ordered to exit their vehicles. Officers were more likely to use force against Black and Hispanic people, the data showed. People perceived as Asian had a lower chance of having force used against them than white people.

“California is leading the charge in collecting and analyzing police stop data,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “To date, the state has provided the public with an in-depth look into nearly 9 million police stops. This information is critical and these annual reports continue to provide a blueprint for strengthening policing that is grounded in the data and the facts. I’m grateful to the RIPA Board and all the staff at the California Department of Justice for making this latest report possible. As a legislator, I was proud to co-author the bill that led to this effort and, now as Attorney General, I am committed to carrying that work forward.”

The 18 law enforcement agencies that reported 2020 RIPA data, which include three early reporting agencies, were the Bakersfield Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Davis Police Department, Fresno Police Department, Long Beach Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department, Oakland Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, Sacramento Police Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, San Francisco Police Department, and San Jose Police Department.

For more on the RIPA data, members of the public are encouraged to review the online RIPA data dashboards available on OpenJustice. The dashboards provide a unique look at the data and will be updated with the new data to help increase public access to information on the millions of stops and searches conducted across California in 2020.

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History-making Trans ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant robbed at gunpoint

Schneider has racked up 25 wins and has earned $918,000 for her efforts, which is also the most money a woman has ever won on the show 

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“Jeopardy!” champion Amy Schneider (LA Blade file screenshot)

OAKLAND – “Jeopardy!” champion Amy Schneider, who became the first trans contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions in November, was robbed at gunpoint over the New Year’s weekend in her home city of Oakland. 

Schneider, the show’s highest-earning woman, took to Twitter on Monday to tell her over 55,000 followers that she was OK after being robbed. 

“Hi all! So, first off: I’m fine. But I got robbed yesterday, lost my ID, credit cards, and phone,” she said. “I then couldn’t really sleep last night, and have been dragging myself around all day trying to replace everything.”

According to the Associated Press, Oakland police said they are investigating the armed robbery that occurred on Sunday afternoon. No arrests have been made. 

The robbery took place just days after Schneider won her 21st consecutive game, surpassing Julia Collins as the most winning woman in the show’s history. 

To date, Schneider has racked up 25 wins and has earned $918,000 for her efforts, which is also the most money a woman has ever won on the show. 

In an email statement to NBC News, a “Jeopardy!” spokesperson said, “We were deeply saddened to hear about this incident, and we reached out to Amy privately to offer our help in any capacity.”

Schneider, an engineering manager from Oakland, has been an inspiration to many during her historic run on the show. 

“Seeing trans people anywhere in society that you haven’t seen them before is so valuable for the kids right now that are seeing it,” she told ABC affiliate KGO-TV in November, adding: “I’m so grateful that I am giving some nerdy little trans kid somewhere the realization that this is something they could do, too.”

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California

Newsom declared a state of emergency in 20 California counties

The Office of Emergency Services is warning that while there is currently a break in the severe weather, more storms are expected next week

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Union Station courtesy of LA Metro

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in 20 California counties including Los Angeles as winter storms continued to pound the state with record snow and rainfall that has knocked out power, shut down major roads and freeways, and caused debris flows, among other hazards.

The emergency proclamation supports response and recovery efforts, including expanding access to state resources for counties under the California Disaster Assistance Act to support their recovery and response efforts, directing the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to request immediate assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program in order to obtain federal assistance for highway repairs or reconstruction, and easing access to unemployment benefits for those unemployed as a result of the storms.

Governor Newsom yesterday released a statement on emergency response efforts now underway across the state and provided an update on the state’s actions to mitigate the impact of weather conditions. Caltrans also issued a press release urging drivers to avoid non-essential travel to the Sierra due to record snowfall.

The text of today’s proclamation can be found here.

Across Los Angeles County crews continue clean-up operations. KTLA reported that travelers passing through Los Angeles Union Station Thursday were ankles-deep in water as a section of the historic station flooded amid heavy rains. The flooding in the pedestrian passageway began about 6 a.m., a Los Angeles Metro spokesman told KTLA.

By 1 p.m., L.A. Metro said the water had been cleared.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services is warning that while there is currently a break in the severe weather, more storms are expected next week.

On Thursday morning, the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles office released precipitation totals for L.A. and Orange counties, revealing how much rain and snow the area has received since Wednesday.

KTLA reported:

The highest rainfall total to date in the Los Angeles area is the approximately 7 inches recorded at Cogswell Dam in the San Gabriel Mountains, which is located in the Bobcat Fire burn scar.

But many other areas of the counties received several inches of rain.

More than 5 inches of precipitation as recorded in the Topanga (5.38), Woodland Hills (5.27) and Brentwood (5.10) areas over the two-day period, weather service data showed. Those were three of the top six rainfall amounts thus far.

In Ventura County — also handled by NWS’s L.A. office — 5 inches of rain has been recorded at Circle X Ranch. That area is nestled in the western part of the Santa Monica Mountains, within the mountain’s Recreation Area. The Santa Susana Mountain’s Rocky Peak is also approaching the 5-inch mark.

Other impressive rainfall amounts were recorded throughout L.A. County, including 4.33 inches in Bel-Air, 3.96 inches in Agoura Hills, 3.82 inches in Newhall, 3.73 inches in Hawthorne, 3.71 inches in Culver City, 3.60 inches in downtown Los Angeles and 3.51 inches in Alhambra.

A number of areas in Ventura County also received at least three inches of rain over two days, among them Saticoy (3.92 inches), Oxnard (3.80 inches), Westlake Villa (3.37), Fillmore (3.13) and Camarillo (3.02 inches).

As far as snowfall totals in L.A and Ventura counties, Mountain High — at an elevation of 7,000 feet — had by far the highest two-day amount: 12 to 18 inches, according to the weather service.

Mount Baldy had the second-most snow with 8 inches. The measurement was recorded at a slightly lower elevation of 6,500 feet,

Mount Wilson and Mount Pinos (along the Ventura County border) tied for third, recording 6 inches apiece.

Snowfall totals can be found here.

Weather related rescues included 22 rescued as downpours flood Leo Carrillo State Park campsites in Malibu.

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