At least 98 deaths related to drug overdoses have already been confirmed this year in San Francisco — with at least 40% of those linked to fentanyl consumption. Starting Monday, Mothers Against Drug Deaths will have a billboard downtown that brings attention to the city’s overdose and drug sales crisis.
In March, three thirty-somethings — two men and a woman — died from what appeared to be an accidental drug overdose scenario, which was allegedly caused by ingesting cocaine laced with fentanyl. The death of those three individuals came just a week after a 16-year-old was found deceased in SoMa having apparently died from a drug overdose. Today, April 2, local police announced they're investigating what's being considered a fentanyl poisoning that took the life of a Bay Area high school student.
Together with @Work4SF, we have rapidly hired 204 public health staff to support mental health and substance abuse needs for our most vulnerable communities in the #Tenderloin.— SFDPH (@SF_DPH) April 1, 2022
Read more about it here: https://t.co/HIjMNsIF5J #TLC #ProtectOurCommunity pic.twitter.com/c493wL7Cjk
Though overdose deaths from fentanyl and other drugs in San Francisco went down in 2021 — a first in three years — the crisis is still prevailing and has already claimed close to a hundred lives in 2022. And starting Monday, a collective of families who have either lost children to drug addiction or have kids suffering from the disease will plaster an unignorable, unavailable, absolutely poignant billboard in Union Square to bring more awareness to the issue.
As reported by the Chronicle, the yet-installed billboard will feature a gorgeous nighttime shot of the Golden Gate Bridge that serves as a dichotomous background for the following text: “Famous the world over for our brains, beauty and, now, our dirt-cheap fentanyl." Below that initial message will read "it's time to close open-air drug markets," followed by both the Mothers Against Drug Deaths' name and logo, as well as its hashtag — #maddtoo.
The advocacy group was co-founded by Jacqui Berlinn, who's the Pleasanton mother of a fentanyl addict suffering from homelessness in SF; her unhoused child often takes up temporary residence in the Tenderloin. Per the Berlinn, the billboard aims to target tourists who may not be aware of SF's current fentanyl problem and drug overdose crisis.
“We just want to discourage tourism until the city is able to get this under control, especially the open drug markets,” Berlinn said to the newspaper. In order to create the billboard and secure its location on Geary and Stockton streets, the group she helped start raised $25K in donations.
Its placement is also particularly symbolic: the City has put a strong emphasis on reviving downtown as of late, but continuously fails to address major problems — like open-air drug sales, rising rates of homelessness, and deaths related to drugs overdoses — that hold the area back from returning to its long-gone glory.
The billboard's strong text is meant to evoke a visceral response from those reading it; the group hopes that feeling will hopefully pressure City leaders to take more action to stop illegal drug sales and use. (However, I think we can concur the soon-to-be-installed billboard's message isn't a justification to revive Breed's emergency order in the Tenderloin that floundered spectacularly and came to a muted end last month.)
“We just want to discourage tourism until the city is able to get this under control, especially the open drug markets,” Berlinn adds, noting she and others in the group are "feeling desperate" about the current state of the overdose crisis, which is exactly why the Mothers Against Drug Deaths are running this campaign.
For those interested in seeing the conversation-starting billboard IRL, it will be up for at least a month at Geary and Stockton streets.
Photo: Courtesy of Mothers Against Drug Deaths