It is one thing for a doctor to misdiagnose a disease or fail in their best attempts to cure a patient.

It is another for a public health care system to mistreat individuals who are in need of critical medical help.

Mentally ill and physically sick, mostly poor men and women seeking help from the city’s community health services are suffering from a misguided attempt to cure their ailments.

Instead of receiving thoughtful and lasting treatment, they are handed cure-all pharmaceutical drugs, the side effects of which are just as bad as, if not worse than, the illnesses they are supposedly treating.

When the city’s homeless and poor go to places like the Homeless Health Services and the County Homeless Aid/Temporary Shelter with health problems, many are handed drugs like Oxycoton, Prozac and Methadone and sent on their way.

Methadone, used to wean addicts off heroin, is an extremely addictive opiate prescribed for pain treatment. Prozac’s side effects include sexual dysfunction, manic episodes, and thoughts of suicide.

A large number of the city’s homeless and poor suffer from mental illness. These drugs only exacerbate current symptoms, or introduce new symptoms and send people into a spiral of deteriorating physical and mental health.

Homeless services provide drugs for free, which creates a dependency that keeps people coming back for more.

If the city actually wants to “clean up” downtown, it needs to do a better job of actually helping people get off the streets.

Downtown drug deals are no longer a matter of speed and crack sales. Now you can find shady exchanges of hard drugs and money for pills.

Half of the U.S. population takes some sort of pharmaceutical drug. And while the ailments range from restless leg syndrome to bipolar disorder, most people have a relatively stable living situation where their behavior is constantly monitored.

On the streets, once a patient is given pills from a health service, he or she will not be seen again until the next time he or she chooses to show up. It is not known how street living adversely affects individuals who are popping Methadone and Prozac.

The city of Santa Cruz must refocus its efforts to help its sick homeless and poor if it is to turn people into healthy, functional members of society.

The city is getting nowhere, perhaps even backtracking, through its disproportionate reliance on pschyotropic drugs to treat all ailments.

Many solutions are available. Studies have found that a combination of prescribed drugs and psychotherapy is a constructive approach to achieving mental health.

Others advocate providing individuals who use medical cannabis with the same benefits offered to those taking prescription drugs, instead of forcing them to choose between their medicine and a place to sleep. Patients who medicate with marijuana often find that it works when other treatments have failed.

No matter what path is taken, the only sensible and humane thing for the city social service to do is to stop handing out prescription drugs like candy. It needs to focus its time, energy and money on healing people.