In Homer’s great epic the Odyssey, the land of the Lotus-Eaters is a place where inhabitants and wayward sailors live in drug-induced states. In this place, men forget about families and responsibilities and drift into a never-ending delirium supported by a never-ending supply of narcotics. The only escape is being forcefully taken away, kicking and screaming, as addicted sailors beg for the sweet lotus. Something we recognize today as heroine and opioid dependency.
San Francisco, the city by the bay, is America’s very own land of the Lotus-Eaters, where thousands go to imbibe in drugs, and many go on to die. “City-funded service providers supervise people smoking fentanyl and meth they buy from drug dealers across the street,” according to a story written by Michael Shellenberger and later confirmed by the San Francisco Chronicle.
San Francisco has a long history of a place men go to die. In the 1980s and 1990s, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) ravaged young men and was the leading cause of death for men between the ages of 25-44, reaching a peak of 2,332 in San Francisco in 1992. Although people became deeply concerned regarding the HIV crisis and deaths, the Department of Health failed to create an Office of Men’s Health as it openly created an Office of Women’s Health in 1991; a program with a mission to “provide national leadership and coordination to improve the health of women and girls through policy, education, and innovative programs.” Despite the male gender-gap in so many areas of well-being, no such efforts have been made on behalf of men and boys.
While San Francisco prides itself on equity, it ignores the diseases of despair of boys and men, a statewide trend in California, Washington, other states, and national policy.
Boys and men have been the ones most likely to have shorter life expectancies, increases in suicide deaths, opioid and drug overdose deaths, and homicide deaths. Additionally, men are less likely to have health coverage. And San Francisco is among one of the worst places for boys and men.
Nationwide, men account for 70% of overdose deaths, but in San Francisco, males account for 83% of drug overdose deaths (538 deaths) according to a report completed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in 2021. In OCME’s 2020 annual report, males accounted for 75% of suicide deaths and 77% of homicide deaths.
Why does our culture have a genuine lack of compassion for boys and men? And for those who don’t believe so, all one needs to do is look at local, state, and federal policies and programs. Why would a nation crying for equity ignore the importance of programs that focus on male health and constitute equal protections?
There is little doubt open drug-use policies are a danger to children, the public, and those suffering from drug addiction. San Francisco needs to recognize this devastation and remove socially funded open-use drug programs from the city while finding a compassionate call to tend to America’s addicted and mentally ill; many whose addictions started with the use of legal OxyContin.
In the Odyssey, Homer’s protagonist, Odysseus, had the sense to drag his men away from the lotus addiction and into work. Drugs take sons and fathers (and daughters and mothers) away from families and cripple societies, something the Greeks knew over 2,500 years ago.
San Francisco poses real dangers with its policy, and city officials and voters must recognize the long-term consequences of addiction and remove people from their drugs. The city and state could start with a boys and men’s commission to match the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, a commission set up over 50 years ago to protect half of its citizenry. But like so many diseases of despair that primarily impact boys and men, San Francisco needs to change its understanding of maleness and exercise it in public policy with compassion. The City by the Bay must recognize the streaming tears of the addicted, the overburdened families who love them, and the policies that allow open drug-use and narcotics trafficking.