In San Francisco, health officials are facing a much worse crisis than the coronavirus pandemic:
A rising number of drug overdose deaths last year that’s showing every indication of worsening in 2021.
By way of comparison, 257 people died of COVID-19, The Times reported.
The Times pegged the overdose death rate in San Francisco as higher than West Virginia, the state with the highest death rate in the nation.
What we are doing to stop the deaths is not enough. Oh, and it was 713 overdose deaths in 2020 not 699 as previously reported.
This year, (2021) we are on track for 1,000 overdose deaths. We need a new approach. #SanFrancisco https://t.co/JXgHYsMzBN
— T Wolf 🌁 (@MyTwolffamily) April 23, 2021
This year could be even deadlier, according to SFGate.
Citing data from the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, SFGate reported that through the first two months of 2021, San Francisco logged 135 overdose deaths. During the first two months of 2020, 81 people died from drug overdoses.
Every year, overdose deaths rise in the City by the Bay. In 2019, overdoses claimed 441 lives, up 70 percent from 2018.
“I can say for sure that what we are doing is not working and that it’s getting worse every single day,” Matt Haney, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, told The Times.
“I get offered drugs every time I step outside. It’s overwhelming,” said Haney, who represents the Tenderloin District, a low-income area in the heart of the city.
In its reporting, The Times quoted a drug user identified as Amber Neri as saying overdoses had become common, and that, “People used to say, ‘Put away your pipes! The cops are coming.’ Now the cops don’t make them put them away anymore.”
The Times said that when police patrolled one downtown street, “They politely asked Ms. Neri and other users, most of them homeless, to move to the other side of the street.”
Epidemiologist Dr. Alex Kral estimated 80 percent of the city’s drug users are homeless.
“You can’t disentangle the overdose mortality crisis from the housing crisis,” Kral told The Times. “They are completely interlinked.”
The city maintains a Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project, which last year gave out more than 50,000 doses of naloxone, which is used to prevent a fatal overdose, project manager Kristen Marshall told The Times.
Haney told The Times that simply reversing potentially deadly overdoses after the drugs are administered isn’t enough.
“If all you’re doing is handing out what someone needs to use it’s tragically inadequate,” he said.
But Marshall said untangling the web of issues among those who overdose is not easy.
“The root causes of overdose are not being sustainably addressed in San Francisco,” Marshall told SFGate.
“We are sort of talking about the deep root causes in larger conversations — poverty, displacement, gentrification, institutional racism… All of those things impact people’s ability to stay safe and healthy. On top of that the drug supply is really strong. And the sheer chaos people are living in — living in poverty, living in supportive housing, living with trauma — remains,” she said.
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