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SF declares a 'public health crisis on drug overdoses'

San Francisco Examiner - 1/8/2020

Supervisor Matt Haney said approval Tuesday of his resolution declaring a public health crisis on drug overdoses should lead to a "response that is as big as the crisis that we are facing."

Haney represents the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods, where there is a concentration of intravenous drug users, and frequently hears from residents and business owners asking him to do more to address the issue.

The resolution, which was unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors, calls on the Department of Public Health, Mayor London Breed and state officials to better respond to drug abuse.

Since it's a resolution, it carries no legal mandate. But Haney said that he hopes San Francisco "will begin to see a commensurate response from the city" and a "response that is as big as the crisis that we are facing."

One of the improvements the resolution calls for is more timely reporting of the number of overdose deaths. The City is still working off of numbers from 2018.

The number of fatal overdoses from drugs like opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine increased from 222 in 2017 to 259 in 2018.

"There needs to be so much more done to prevent overdose deaths," Haney said. "We expect that the numbers in 2019 will go up even higher than in 2018. The numbers are not regularly shared as often as they need to be for us to understand the extent of the crisis. We are still working from 2018 numbers."

The 2018 data shows, for example, that "opioid overdose death was most likely among persons aged 40–59, more than twice as likely among African American/Black residents, and three to four times more likely among men compared to women," according to a Department of Public Health report released last month.

The report also found that "the distribution of naloxone by community-based organizations continued to increase, with 7,306 naloxone kits distributed and 1,658 overdose reversals reported in 2018."

Department of Public Health spokesperson Rachael Kagan said that "Drug overdose deaths are tragic and preventable and we have been working urgently on this problem in San Francisco for many years."

"Thousands of lives have been saved by people in the community, thanks to our long-standing practice of distributing naloxone among people who use drugs, and their friends," Kagan said. "The current increase in OD deaths is largely attributable to the rise of fentanyl, which has decimated many communities. We are redoubling our efforts to prevent ODs and appreciate the support and attention of City leaders to strengthen this work."