People struggling with meth or cocaine addiction can earn up to $599 in gift cards to stay away from the stuff under a news state program, and San Francisco is one of the participating counties.

The New York Times reports today on an innovative, first-in-the-nation program that will pay meth and cocaine users to stay clean. That report details that this pilot program is available to residents suffering from stimulant use disorder (meth or cocaine addiction) in four California counties, but San Francisco is one of them. And a July report from CalMatters notes that Zuckerberg General Hospital is participating, though you do have to be enrolled in MediCal to enroll in this program that pays up to $599 to stay off the stimulants.

“It’s really a brave choice of California to try this against potential backlash and misunderstanding,” California Health Care Foundation associate director Catherine Teare tells the Times. “This isn’t going to solve it,” she adds, “but I think it’s well worth trying.”

As we’ve mentioned before, San Francisco is on pace for its deadliest year ever for accidental drug overdoses. And according to the California Health Care Foundation, meth-related emergency room visits increased 50% between 2018 and 2020. The notion of paying people to stay clean has proven effective, as a 2021 paper published in JAMA Psychiatry found that 80% of such clinically administered programs did reduce drug use.

One does need to be diagnosed with a stimulant use disorder to participate. Once enrolled, you basically pee in a cup to prove you’ve spent the week clean. The first clean test yields a $10 gift card. The value of the card gradually increases to up to $26.50 a week, and recipient max out at $599, because beyond that, it’s taxable income.

The program could cost the state up to $50 million, though the feds are covering the cost.

But why aren’t we doing this for fentanyl, which is causing the largest number of overdose deaths? Because fentanyl is an opioid, and there are targeted, pharmaceutical treatment therapies for opioid addiction. There are no such medical treatments for methamphetamine or cocaine addiction, so the state is hoping the $10-$26 gift cards may prove therapeutically useful.

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