SF launches new program to fight opioid crisis

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – San Francisco is launching a new program to help fight the opioid crisis. Starting Saturday, emergency responders will be able to start administering a drug called buprenorphine.

Health experts say that buprenorphine, also known as suboxone, reduces the risk of an overdose death by 50%. 

San Francisco has a number of initiatives to combat the opioid crisis and the newly launched program is part of that. Dr. Hillary Kunins, the director of behavioral health services in San Francisco, explained how the drug’s effects work similarly to methadone.

“To help a person not experience withdrawal if they have an opioid addiction, reduce or stop cravings for the illicit substance and for that reason both are highly successful in supporting a person in their recovery,” she said.

For years, buprenorphine prescriptions were heavily regulated, but last year President Biden relaxed those federal regulations. Starting Saturday, emergency responders with the San Francisco Fire Department will be able to administer the drug to those struggling with addiction. Section Chief Michael Mason with the Community Paramedicine Division says the staff is trained and ready.

“When someone is given Narcan they typically don’t feel very good. They are in what we call a ‘precipitated withdrawal,’ and that’s a very short window and that’s the window that suboxone could be useful for many people. It will help them feel better and help manage their withdrawal symptoms and help them exit that cycle,” he said.

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KRON4 reached out to the National Harm Reduction Coalition about the new program in San Francisco. Acting Director Laura Guzman says treatment expansion is important, as long as it’s done in a culturally appropriate manner.

“We want to make sure that the treatment access is considered, how our people are educated about it and also how they are treated when they are in the emergency room,” she said.

Dr. Kunins says that buprenorphine will also be more available in primary care clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies.