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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Fatal overdoses linked to heroin and fentanyl more than doubled last year in San Francisco with nearly 300 people losing their lives.

Now ambulance crews on the front lines of this deadly epidemic have a new way to help them respond to this community in crisis.

What’s being called Project Friend is meant to save more lives as well as help steer some of the addicts they encounter into treatment.

In 2018, San Francisco emergency crews administered more than 1,600 doses of naloxone or narcan.

But last year, nearly 300 of these calls linked to either heroin, fentanyl or both ended up with the patient going to the morgue rather than the ER.  

“When you see that statistic, our people have see that every day. It’s very trying on your firefighter, your paramedics, your EMTs,” said San Francisco EMT Ray Ryan. “Sometimes you’re stuck in a loop in the highest call volume area which is downtown, you’re just doing overdoses all day.”

Ryan is one of those San Francisco Fire Department EMTs working on the front line of this epidemic.

“Right now heroin is very out of fashion, I haven’t actually had a heroin overdose in probably two months, everything is fentanyl right now,” he said. “And Fentanyl, the potency by volume is a factor of 100 times more potent and it’s seeping into everything in the system right now.”

Now he and many of the other city’s ambulance crews are not only working to save the lives of the patients they respond to, but they are carrying Narcan to give out to those at risk for overdose or the people in their lives and training them.

They’re training the on how they can help reverse a fatal overdose.  

SFPD’s operation chief says this program, which is paid for with a $2 million federal grant, can help empower the public to help lessen the death toll from this crisis.

“We are the absolute safety net and the absolute front line of this epidemic and we are looking for anything we can do to try to change those statistics and really be part of the solution as well,” the operation chief said.

It’s called Project Friend, which stands for first responder increased education and naloxone distribution.

The kits given out under this program have forms that can be filled out, which can open those getting them up to treatment options offered through the city’s department of public health.

First responders believe their patients could be more receptive to the idea of getting help for their addiction once they’ve experienced such a close call with death.

The program is giving the first responders not only the ability to save lives but to help to change those lives for the better.

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