Presumably to bolster his support for the proposed alcohol fee in San Francisco, Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius’ newest column, Chronic Drunks’ Treatment Costs S.F. Big Bucks, highlights the use of emergency and health services by the city’s chronic drunks. And it totals a lot of money and understandably frustrates the city’s service providers.
But here’s the thing. A five-year study of the problem revealed that there are only around 225 people — these “chronic inebriants” — that are high ambulance users, and “fewer than 300 individuals account for 80 percent of the ambulance runs for alcohol treatment.” There are around 809,000 people living in San Francisco, meaning less than 3/100th of a percent are chronic drunks abusing the city’s healthcare system, and that’s not including all the people who flock to the city in order to drink. I’d be frustrated, too, but since those fees are already borne in the taxes that every person pays (at the local, city, county, state and federal level) I don’t quite see how further taxing just those people that also drink alcohol is a reasonable remedy to this problem, as supporters of the AMFO (Nevius included) have argued.
The stories Nevius tells are tragic and detail real abuses, but never does he use the phrase “personal responsibility.” Clearly, these are people with problems. But alcohol didn’t cause their problems, something in their personality, life, etc. did. I grew up with a psychotic, alcoholic stepfather who abused my mother and me both emotionally and physically, but even as a child I knew the alcohol didn’t make him that way. There were deep-seated problems that caused his illness and alcohol was just one of the ways he tried to cope. He was responsible for his own behavior, it couldn’t be dismissed or blamed away because he got drunk.
By the statistics in Nevius’ own column, at least 99.97% of San Francisco residents are not abusing emergency services, but he and the other supporters of the new alcohol fee think that all drinkers should be punished for their own good behavior to pay for those who are irresponsible. What could make less sense than that?