Irony and the Death of Jeff Adachi

Jeff Adachi, the elected public defender of San Francisco, advocated ending the war on drugs. Now he’s dead from a drug overdose.

Adachi should be lauded for his career in public service. His death also raises important questions about drug crime. Adachi was in possession of cocaine and under its influence on the day of his death. Someone sold or furnished the drug to him. These are all against the law.  Unfortunately, people have decided that drug laws are not worth enforcing in the same way that they used to.  Police used to spend a lot of time and effort trying to detect and prevent these types of crimes. Adachi describes this time as “the bad old days.”

Things are different now. Drugs crimes have been reduced to misdemeanors, or in some cases infractions. As a result, police no longer prioritize these crimes, and allocate their resources elsewhere. Adachi himself points out:

[San Francisco]’s felony drug arrests are plummeting at unprecedented speed — 92 percent since the peak in 1988-89, and despite our population growing by 150,000. 

Jeff Adachi was in favor of these changes. He said, “The war on drugs ruined countless lives.” He described it as biased, devastating and misery-inducing. He continued, “We applaud anything resembling a ceasefire in this calamitous war.”

The irony is that Adachi helped to end the exact kind of police work that could have saved his life. He described police work aimed at drug users as “the war on crumbs.” He said that in February, when he was probably a drug user himself. If law enforcement had managed to stop that cocaine from entering the United States, or California, or even just San Francisco, then Adachi would be alive today. Once the cocaine got into the city, if a policeman had managed to find it, Adachi would be alive today. To be even more specific, if a policemen had stopped Adachi, frisked him, and discovered his drugs on the night of his death, he would be alive today. It’s an uncomfortable reminder to opponents of stop and frisk that drug enforcement can save lives.

You might say that law enforcement failed to do its job. Law enforcement should have stopped the transportation of the cocaine, should have been out there stopping and frisking people, should have assigned officers to drug interdiction. But Adachi himself worked to prevent that. He described efforts that could have saved his life in the most derogatory way possible. And he went to court, and the court of public opinion, again and again to obstruct drug enforcement. In retrospect, he should not have done that.

His death, then, is a reminder of the consequences of drug crime. In Adachi’s case, the consequences were fatal. He died on a gurney in a corner of a hospital ER. And although he was only one man, his death is dramatic evidence that his ideas on drugs were wrong. His death was a private tragedy for his family. But he was a public figure. And the public can learn an important lesson from Jeff Adachi’s ironic (and unnecessary) death.


Local news outlet Mission Local blames Adachi’s death on failure to treat his heart problems. Incredibly, they call this “the painful lesson” to be learned from his death.

Adachi wanted his misdemeanor attorneys to conduct 10 trials a year.

Information about Adachi’s death came to light when a reporter obtained the police report. Many were angered and embarrassed by this. The publication of the details of Adachi’s death has become a saga of its own.

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