The Department of Public Health released a report on Monday that showed deaths from drug overdoses increased 70 percent last year in San Francisco, a staggering statistic that represents more than one death a day in that city.
The report said 441 people died of an overdose in 2019 compared to 259 in 2018. And more than half — 54 precent — were related to fentanyl, a drug that can be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the federal government.
“This doesn’t surprise any of us,” Kristen Marshall, who manages the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (DOPE) project at the National Harm Reduction Coalition, a city-funded program that coordinates San Francisco’s response to overdoses, said in a San Francisco Chronicle report. “We had been sounding the alarm bells for the last three, four, even five years. We said fentanyl is coming.”
The Chronicle noted that the majority of overdoses occurred among black people, men, and those in their 50s, and it reported on how experts believe things might get worse before they get better:
Dr. Phillip Coffin, the department’s director of substance use research and lead author of the report, says he expects the 2020 numbers to be even more dire as the pandemic isolates more people and increases the barriers to help.
“We are advising people to remain more isolated, which could parodoxically increase the risk of an overdose being more fatal,” Coffin said. “A lot of the things that we want to do and support are in conflict with our infectious disease prevention strategies.”
He said the increase in 2020 could be even higher than the 70 percent increase between 2018 and 2019.
The Chronicle reported that in 2019 2,610 overdose deaths were prevented using Narcan, a nasal spray to fight an opioid overdose, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition.
That number is up dramatically from 2015, when 609 overdose deaths were prevented.
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