The San Francisco Department of Public Health announced on Wednesday that the city recorded 385 deaths from fentanyl so far this year and is currently on pace to break the previous record for fentanyl deaths set in 2020.
For over a decade, fentanyl, an FDA approved synthetic opioid pain reliever and anesthetic that is also up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, has ravaged cities and town across the US because of severe abuse. San Francisco in particular has been severely affected in recent years, with 519 fentanyl related overdose deaths coming in 2020 alone, 73% of the total 725 overdose deaths being reported that year.
Policies under former District Attorney Chesa Boudin to limit prosecutions, a worsening economic situation, and a growing law enforcement shortage situation in the city made the problem go from bad to worse since 2020. A huge rise in overdoses was recorded, as was a new record number of drug-related deaths in the city.
Even after Boudin was recalled last year, and new DA Brooke Jenkins bringing back more accountability for drug dealers, fentanyl death rates still rose. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy chains began paying record amounts to the city for their roles in the fentanyl crisis. This included $24.8 million being paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals and $230 million being paid by Walgreens.
This led to 2023, where the combination of problems soon brought on fentanyl related deaths at a record pace. In the first three months of 2023, 200 fentanyl-related deaths were recorded, a huge jump from 142 deaths in 2022. The statistics grew worse on Wednesday when the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced that 473 people have died of accidental overdoses this year so far, with 71 coming in July alone. Of the total, 385 of the overdoses were caused by fentanyl.
At a press conference, San Francisco Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax said, “It pains me to share that this is the highest overdose deaths San Francisco has experienced and it correlates with this overtake of fentanyl into our drug supply. 80% of those overdose deaths are the result of fentanyl, which has become cheaper, more potent and more available. When it was first introduced, people were mixing it with other drugs, but now more drug users are opting for Fentanyl alone.”
“We are flooding areas with Naloxone. Life-saving Naloxone, expanding access to treatment, and working with community partners to better understand the various impacts fentanyl is having. But most important, we are working hard to try and get people on the path to recovery. We are currently treating 25,000 people with substance and mental health issues and now expanding services and outreach, not to mention the distribution of more Narcan.”
385 fentanyl deaths in the first 7 months of 2023
The new fentanyl overdose figures, as well as the record-setting pace for overdose deaths the city is currently on this year, didn’t surprise those working to combat overdoses and drug use in the city. Harmony Smith, who runs a support group for addicts in San Francisco, told the Globe on Thursday that she is surprised that the figure isn’t higher, as several deaths seem to come in daily.
“Every day we get word of more deaths,” said Smith. “I am shocked that the figure isn’t higher. It isn’t every meeting, but it happens often enough that someone in recovery with us mentions that a friend or someone they knew OD’d. As horrific of those 473 overdoses are, seeing the human faces behind them and how the deaths affect people around them is gut wrenching.”
“And these all aren’t the stereotypical drug users you think of either. Many people who overdose hold jobs, have families, and generally function in society. But they had an addiction, and it finally caught up to them in a fatal way. There is a reason why some people carry Narcan in their purse or keep one of the injectors in their glove box in their car. They never know when they will see an overdose. And that should speak volumes too. A lot of people have it on hand for ODs because they happen so often.”
“Sadly, the city is not addressing this problem as much as they should, and unless we see a huge effort this fall to push back against fentanyl, we’re likely going to reach that death record mark.”
More statistics on fentanyl deaths in San Francisco are due at the end of the month.
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