Community in Crisis

Data shows drastic increase in fentanyl overdose deaths in San Francisco

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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – The number of overdose deaths in San Francisco drastically increased in recent years, according to the Department of Public Health. 

Over the first six months of 2019, the increased number of overdose deaths were attributed to fentanyl. 

The data released show there was also a rise in overdoses due to methamphetamine.

Public health officials say fentanyl first appeared as a ‘contaminant in other street drugs’ before becoming a drug of choice for people across San Francisco.

“San Francisco averted the increases in overdose death seen across the country from the prescription opioid and heroin crises, which we attribute to robust overdose prevention and treatment services. Unfortunately, since the second half of 2018, we – like every community that has seen fentanyl take over the street opioid market – have faced rising mortality due to fentanyl,” said Dr. Phillip O. Coffin, Director of Substance Research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.  

The data released shows the number of overdose deaths from 2015 through the first six months of 2019. 

Public health officials gather data for six-month death reports using toxicology testing, investigation, and verification. 

The health department then tracks the use of substances in the city to help invest in preventing overdoses and treatment programs.

The most recent annual report was released in December 2019 for the trends in 2018 but on Tuesday, Feb. 18, Dr. Coffin will be presenting the latest overdose data. (Check back for the latest numbers)

Overdose deaths in San Francisco

The data below shows the number of overdose deaths from 2015 through the first six months of 2019.

Full data has not been released for the last six months of 2019.

Partial data that officials have gathered for those months do suggest there will be a substantial increase in overdose deaths.

Fentanyl

The data shows the number of fentanyl overdoses tripled from 2016 through the first six months of 2019.

  • 2016 – 22 deaths (double the # in 2015)
  • 2017 – 36 deaths
  • 2018 – 89 deaths
  • 2019 – 69 deaths (first 6 months) 

Methamphetamine

  • 2015 – 81 deaths
  • 2016 – 88 deaths
  • 2017 – 99 deaths
  • 2018 – 126 deaths
  • 2016 – 112 deaths (first 6 months)

Overdose overall

  • 2017 – 222 deaths
  • 2018 – 259 deaths
  • 2019 – 182 deaths (first 6 months)

Harm Reduction

The Department of Public Health promotes ways to reduce the harmful impact on the community associated with drugs and alcohol.

One way San Francisco has successfully tackled harm reduction is by distributing naloxone, also known as Narcan, to paramedics and police officers.

San Francisco is also working to reduce the number of deaths with prevention sites. Mayor London Breed announced a possible location for the first sobering center in the city which would open in the Spring.

The Department of Public Health has brought the opioid addiction medication, buprenorphine, right to people on the street.

According to Dr. Barry Zevin, about 20 new prescriptions for the medication are written every month by the street medicine team for homeless people or those without access to health care.

“We tell our patients who use opioids that using buprenorphine can stop your cravings and works very well in treating addiction. For people who are not ready to stop using entirely, we find that buprenorphine also treats the risk of opioid overdose. We have not had overdoses among patients who continue to use buprenorphine. Lowering barriers to addiction treatment saves lives,” Zevin said.

Safety Tips

DPH recommends that street drug users carry naloxone with them at all times.

Medi-Cal, Healthy San Francisco, and most health plans cover naloxone and it can be picked up at CBHS Pharmacy at 1380 Howard Street with no prescription required.

Fentanyl test strips can also be accessed from the following locations in order to test their drugs before usage:

  • Glide Harm Reduction Services, 330 Ellis (between Jones & Taylor): Monday-Friday, 12-5 p.m. on the 5th floor, and Monday-Tuesday, 7-9 p.m. in the lobby.
  • Sixth Street Harm Reduction Center, 117 6th Street (@ Minna): Monday and Thursday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m.; and Saturday, 4 p.m.-11 p.m.

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