More policing and more arrests do not seem to be making a dent in the San Francisco opioid overdose crisis, as the month of August’s 84 fatalities ties the record for accidental overdose deaths in the city.
Governor Newsom and Mayor Breed’s ballyhooed fentanyl crackdown has marshaled a cavalry of state Highway Patrol officers, state National Guard, and SF Sheriff’s deputies. And according to a new report in the Chronicle, drug arrests have reached a ten-year high. But none of this seems to be affecting access to drugs and the deadly outcomes of fentanyl, because that same Chronicle report details that August tied the record for accidental overdose deaths, with 84 fatalities. That ties the month of January 2023, and these numbers tend to be revised upwards in the weeks after their initial announcement.
“It is a tragedy that is unfolding every day. We had nearly three deaths a day in August in San Francisco due to overdoses, at least 80% of which based on prior data we know are due to fentanyl,” SF Public Health Director Grant Colfax told KRON.
To whatever degree this may help, KTVU points out the city has started a drug overdose death dashboard (seen above) which details accidental drug overdose deaths by month, and also has data on 911 overdose calls and breakdowns by race and ethnicity. And as the chart shows, monthly totals can swing pretty wildly, with one month often seeing an increase or decrease by dozens of deaths.
But none of this changes the fact that 2023 is shaping up to be SF’s deadliest year ever for accidental drug overdoses. We’ve already seen 562 overdose deaths in 2023 to date, which is more than the entire total of 441 in 2019. 2020 was SF’s deadliest year ever for overdoses with 725 deaths, and the Chronicle projects that at current pace, San Francisco will see at least 845 fatal ODs for the year 2023.
Several SF supervisors have tied the returning rise in overdose deaths to the December closure of the Tenderloin Center, which allowed supervised drug use for its 11 month tenure in UN Plaza. And for all the criticism that it brought, the place boasted an excellent track record for reversing overdoses.
City Hall is still in a divisive debate over how to structure treatment centers, and whether there will be another that allows supervised consumption. But for the time being, all we’ve got is that same resources if you or someone you encounter is having an overdose emergency: support lines, crisis centers, and recovery groups.
Image: Nobuyuki Kondo via Wikimedia Commons