While still dwarfed by numbers on the East Coast, the number of people overdosing on fentanyl in San Francisco has been on the rise — and one local nonprofit has helped distribute Narcan kits, giving people on the street more means to save each other from overdoses.
According to Department of Public Health data, 89 people died from fentanyl overdoses in San Francisco last year — half of the total opioid overdoses in the city, and about four times the number of pedestrians who were killed by cars, as Mission Local points out. But an estimate 1,660 overdoses were reversed in that time thanks to widely distributed kits containing naloxone, the drug better known by the brand name Narcan, which revives a person's central nervous system and prevents it from shutting down during an overdose. Many of these kits, which all SFPD officers now carry on them, were distributed to drug users by the city-funded Drug Overdose Prevention & Education (DOPE) Project.
The DOPE Project disseminated 30,000 doses of Narcan last year alone, and the group also assists in regular testing of the fentanyl supply coming in to San Francisco — the potency of the supply can vary from 4 percent to 34 percent. That testing, during on week in June, showed that the potency of the fentanyl being sold on the street had spiked, and within a week 10 people had died, as DOPE Project lead Kristen Marshall tells Mission Local.
Fentanyl is a rapid-onset, short-duration painkiller that's considered 100 times more potent than morphine. It is typically only used in a hospital setting to treat seriously patients, via a patch or lollipop which carefully regulates the dosage.
SFist first started writing about fentanyl showing up in SF's drug supply four years ago, when it figured in the deaths of three people who took counterfeit Xanax pills laced with the drug. Since that time, as Marshall tells Mission Local, drug users have more and more begun seeking fentanyl on its own. One user describes an experience to Mission Local in which snorting a bit of fentanyl "dust" "knocked [him] on [his] back for nine hours."
To combat users taking other drugs, including heroin, that are laced with fentanyl, the city has begun distributing test strips to detect the presence of fentanyl.
Meanwhile, the availability of Narcan saved a reported 735 people in SF in the first four months of 2019 alone. 39 people died of overdoses in that same period.
But with their frequent sweeps of homeless encampments, police and the Department of Public Works often confiscate homeless peoples' Narcan along with their other belongings, per Mission Local. And just in the first half of this year, 86 such confiscations had been reported.
Last week, SF's top federal prosecutor announced a new crackdown on drug trafficking in the Tenderloin specifically, saying that high-level drug traffickers would be the prime targets. 32 people, most Honduran nationals said to be part of the same trafficking ring based in the East Bay, were rounded up for arrest as well.
Photo: Ryan Alexander