Santa Fe, NM – Below is a statement from Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director, Municipal Drug Strategies and New Mexico State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, in response to tonight’s Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force presentation to the City of Santa Fe’s City Council:

“The bold leadership of the Santa Fe Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force, presented in this report, demonstrates how cities can step up and implement innovate drug policies rooted in science, compassion, and public health as opposed to punitive measures that have been proven ineffective time and time again.

It is difficult to see our families cycle in and out of jail, meanwhile not receiving the treatment and social supports they need to address problematic drug use. Instead, Santa Fe needs to prioritize public health over costly criminal justice strategies, starting with: treatment on demand that does not punish people for relapsing; access to treatment such as methadone and buprenorphine in our County jail; more supportive housing that does not deny people based on their drug use; science-based and compassionate drug education curriculum in our schools; additional public safety behavioral health staff workers within the Fire Department; more economic development opportunities and mentorship programs for people who use drugs or are in treatment and recovery; and, exploring new evidence-based treatments like injectable opioid treatment.

City governments are increasingly positioned at the center of innovation in solving complex large-scale public problems like drug overdose and mass criminalization. Even when the federal government fails to act, cities have unique mechanisms to move ahead, which ultimately sets trends for broader policy change.”

First pioneered as a public health measure in Europe in the 1980s and 90s, Municipal Drug Strategies challenge local communities to work from a public health, racial justice and human rights framework instead of defining people who use drugs as criminals in need of coercion and punishment.  The results in the numerous European cities that have adopted Municipal Drug Strategies have been nothing short of spectacular, revealing significantly lower rates of crime and problematic drug use – along with a parallel improvement in public health outcomes, including major reductions in rates of overdose, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis C.

In 2016, Ithaca, NY, made history and national news when it launched the first formal Municipal Drug Strategy in the U.S. In 2018, Santa Fe followed Ithaca’s lead and formed its own Municipal Drug Strategy committee.

In an op-ed published in The Hill  by Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, they describe what led them to adopt Municipal Drug Strategies in their cities:

“As mayors, we know that a shift away from punitive responses to drugs is possible,” they write. “Our two cities, like communities large and small across the country, bear the burden of a half-century of disastrous drug policies that have wrought two epidemics: Mass incarceration and skyrocketing overdose deaths. Far from stemming the tide of death, the war on drugs continues to exacerbate an overdose crisis of historic proportions.”

“If the United States continues to pursue a decades-long drug war, people in our communities will continue to die and suffer. As people elected to serve, we have a moral obligation to do something different, something better,” write the two mayors.