How much does drug addiction cost in San Francisco? A supervisor wants to know

He sent a letter on Monday to City Comptroller Ben Rosenfield and Chief Economist Ted Egan asking for help in determining what it would take to estimate the financial strain that unaddressed dependency is placing on the city budget.

Dorsey’s goal is to create a “Right to Recovery” report updated every two years, inspired in part by an Oregon study that found public spending on substance use was consuming nearly 17% of this state’s 2017 budget.

It’s the latest attempt by Dorsey, who is recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, to tackle the city’s epidemic of overdose deaths, largely due to fentanyl. The city’s behavioral health budget for this fiscal year is $597 million, which includes mental health and addictions treatment, but that number doesn’t fully sum up what addiction costs the city.

Dorsey said in an interview that he would defer to the Comptroller and the Chief Economist to know exactly what the cost analysis of unaddressed addiction should entail. But he said the estimate could look at areas such as the criminal justice system, emergency response and even the impacts on the foster care system when addicts are unable to care for their children.

A former police spokesman appointed to the board of overseers this year by the mayor of London Breed, Dorsey has previously said he wants to create ‘drugs priority zones’ around establishments that serve people with disabilities related to substance or alcohol use.

Dorsey has yet to introduce legislation that would create the enforcement zones. He said he is still working out the details of his legislative proposal with the city attorney’s office and other city officials.

But regardless of that effort, he hopes an estimate of the costs of untreated addiction could provide valuable information to his constituents in District Six, which includes the South of Market neighborhood which is one of the epicentres of the overdose crisis. in San Francisco.

“As we debate the costs of solving drug-related harms, I want a clear view of what it is currently costing the taxpayers of San Francisco. not to address drug-related harms,” he wrote in the letter.

A spokesperson for the comptroller’s office said it planned to undertake the “analytical scoping exercise” that Dorsey requested in his letter.

The letter comes as San Francisco leaders struggle to move forward on the overdose crisis that has killed more than 1,500 people since 2020 – far more than the previous three years combined. More recently, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation that would have allowed San Francisco to set up a supervised consumption site for drug addicts, though city leaders want to set up a local one anyway. non-profit.

Dorsey said the drug addiction cost estimate would be useful when the board of supervisors and the mayor decide how to allocate the city’s budget.

“Ideally, it would be nice as we start fiscal season to have a number that we can rely on that is a clear view of what it’s costing us not to address these issues,” Dorsey said. . “It will help me as an advocate for what we need to spend to address these issues.”

The overdose crisis and its impact on public health and street conditions in District Six is ​​factored into Dorsey’s November campaign, where he tries to defeat his main challenger, Honey Mahogany.

Mahogany, who was chief of staff to Dorsey’s predecessor, Matt Haney, called Dorsey’s letter “a very fanciful way of saying that prevention is the most cost-effective method of treatment.” She said she already knew that was true from her background in social work.

“It’s certainly nice to have more data on these impacts, but at the end of the day, we already know the solutions: staffing and funding mental health services appropriately to prevent people from falling into crisis and get treatment as soon as possible,” Mahogany said.

She said the city would be helped by the full implementation of SF mental health legislation that the board of oversight passed in late 2019 to overhaul San Francisco’s mental health and addiction treatment services. Haney, former Mahogany boss, co-author of the legislation.

“To me, this shows why it’s so important to have an independent voice in City Hall … who has decades of experience doing this job,” Mahogany said in the text message. “We know how to fix this, and we need to hold the city accountable for its failure to do what it knows it needs to do.”

JD Morris (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jd.morris@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @thejdmorris