The opioid crisis persists in San Francisco, and a new report confirms how dire the situation, with 344 accidental overdose deaths so far this year, and thousands of lives likely saved by Narcan.
The San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has released a preliminary report on overdose deaths from January 1 through June 30, and it shows a total of 344 deaths, with 256 of those caused by fentanyl. An average of 43 accidental deaths from fentanyl have happened each month so far this year, with an average of 32.5 deaths per month from methamphetamine overdoses. Around 20 deaths per month happened from accidental cocaine overdoses, and an average of 8 deaths per month were caused by heroin overdoses.
The situation would be far more tragic were it not for the widespread distribution and use of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan or naloxone, which was deployed a total of 4,235 times in SF so far this year, as the Chronicle reports via the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project (DOPE).
As Kristen Marshall, the manager of DOPE, tells the paper, "This has been a steadily growing crisis that has only recently gained attention because of the sheer amount of deaths."
Accidental overdose deaths seemed to spike in the first months of the pandemic in San Francisco, but they have only grown in frequency. And DOPE has previously called attention to the wide variability in potency of the fentanyl being found on the street — and the shift in the last several years from fentanyl being used to increase the potency of other drugs to being a drug that people do on its own.
As one addict named Carmen Sierra told KTVU last year, "I overdosed after taking two hits, two puffs off of tin foil and I was out."
Marshall tells the Chronicle that the numbers they've collected via the community represent a fraction — possibly less than a third — of the total number of times Narcan has been used to save a life, because the drug has been widely put in the hands of addicts themselves to help each other. And Marshall credits the addicts who volunteer to help distribute the drug for saving many lives.
"If it weren’t for them, our medical examiners would have to rent out coolers for the amount of bodies," she tells the Chronicle.
In 2020, there were a total of 712 accidental overdose deaths in the city and over 4,300 documented reversals with the use of naloxone. The number of reversals looks on track to be double that in 2021, and the number of deaths on track to be similar to last year.
Top image: Two addicts shoot-up a mix of heroin and fentanyl on a street in Kensington on July 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, over 93,000 people died from a drug overdose last year in America. These numbers and the continued rise in opioid use made 2020 the deadliest year on record for drug overdoses. Officials have said that the increase is being driven by the lethal prevalence of fentanyl and stressed Americans due to the Covid pandemic. Kensington, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, has become one of the largest open-air heroin markets in the United States. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)