UCSF doctor details how fentanyl overdoses are impacting hospitals, workers

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Friday, August 18, 2023
SF doctor details how fentanyl overdoses are impacting hospitals
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UCSF doctor details how fentanyl overdoses are impacting San Francisco hospitals and the workers trying to save drug users' lives.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco appears to be on track to set a new record for overdose deaths in 2023. According to the city's health department, in July alone, 71 people died of an accidental overdose with the majority of them linked to fentanyl.

Dr. Christopher Colwell is a UCSF emergency medicine specialist and the chief of emergency medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

MORE: 71 died of accidental overdoses in SF in July alone, health officials say

He spoke about the fentanyl crisis, saying the drug is easy to get and potent.

"What we're seeing in our emergency department, like in emergency departments across the country, is really severe overdoses that go well beyond what we were seeing before," Colwell says.

Colwell says fentanyl takes significant doses of Naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose, for long periods of time and that's a reflection of how potent that drug is.

"Often times patients come and they're not breathing so it is a desperate effort to try to get them to breathe again and that involves Naloxone and many cases it involves us breathing for them until we're able to turn that effective fentanyl around and sometimes we have to put patients on ventilators," says Dr. Colwell.

He says they're seeing the impact of the drug on almost a daily basis.

MORE: SF supervisor calls to divert millions meant for wellness hubs to drug treatment programs in jail

And San Francisco isn't alone, other cities and hospitals in the U.S. are seeing the same impacts of fentanyl.

Dr. Colwell is working on projects in his department to help with the situation and says they're always ready to initiate effective treatments.

He says there should be a focus on opportunities for treatment, which is available.

When asked if he expects the fentanyl crisis to get worse, Dr. Colwell responded saying, "I worry very much that it's going to get worse because it's easy to make, it's easy to get ahold of and it really is a powerful effect that has a very strong drive for it. Patients say they become so desperate for that high that they lose the ability to focus on anything else."

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