San Francisco’s Department of Public Health has confirmed it is distributing medical cannabis, alcohol, methadone, and tobacco in “limited quantities” to some homeless people sheltering in city-provided hotels during the COVD-19 pandemic.

The move prompted fierce debate on Twitter, some taking issue with the city spending taxpayer money on drugs and alcohol, as reported by SFGate. However, the city responded that the drugs are paid for by a private fund, not taxpayer money.

In addition, officials have insisted that providing alcohol and drugs to the homeless sheltering is a health imperative, allowing the city to provide shelter for more people and preventing medical complications among part of the population. The substances are being administered under the guidance of physicians.

“Managed alcohol and tobacco use makes it possible to increase the number of guests who stay in isolation and quarantine and, notably, protects the health of people who might otherwise need hospital care for life-threatening alcohol withdrawal,” SFDPH said in a statement.

San Francisco was an early hub of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, and has also been one of the most successful cities in flattening the curveof new infections. The city has provided more than 700 homeless people with shelter in housing during the crisis, including in appropriated hotels.

Individuals over 60 or with underlying health conditions receive priority for emergency housing. Before entering isolation, guests are asked about substance addictions as part of the screening process.

“Many isolation and quarantine guests tell us they use substances daily, and this period in our care has allowed some people to connect for the first time with addiction treatment and harm reduction therapy,” the city’s health department said.

Photo via Flickr/Mark Gunn