San Francisco mayor wants to fund first national program to bring treatment to heroin addicts

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Franciscans often express their frustration over the number of homeless people and discarded needles on the streets.

On Thursday, Mayor Mark Farrell announced he will set aside an extra $6 million to fund a team of doctors that will reach out to heroin addicts, giving them a drug that seems to have great success in stopping heroin cravings.

RELATED: Needle, drug use epidemic prompts action from BART

"My life has changed dramatically," said former heroin user Chris Ruffino. This is a powerful statement from a man who spent years trying to fight his heroin addiction - until he was given a drug called buprenorphine.

San Francisco Department of Public Health's Dr. Barry Zevin has been treating him and others. "My favorite patient is somebody who is using heroin who I am able to say I actually have effective treatment," Zevin said.

The Health Department has been using the medication on some homeless people addicted to heroin.

VIDEO: Man captures video of 'zombie-like' people using drugs at BART station
EMBED More News Videos

A commuter in San Francisco shot videos over the course of a week showing people using drugs out in the open at a BART station.

Now the mayor wants to fund a team who will go out and distribute the medication to at least 250 more street addicts during a two-year period. Each person would be given a one-week pack of daily doses.

How can anyone be sure that they will take it? Ruffino says it works almost immediately and no one wants to stay an addict forever. "There is no high involved with it, you are just normal. It takes away all of your cravings and all of your desires," he said.

He's been heroin-free for three and a half years.

The Health Department says nearly 60 percent of those who began taking the medication are still working on being clean.

RELATED: Marin County joins lawsuit against 12 pharmaceutical companies over opioids

So that you can better understand this crisis, the Health Department estimates there are 11,000 heroin addicts who use needles.

Public Works picks up more than 12,000 discarded needles a month. Those needles are collected mainly from homeless hot spots and encampments.

Mary Howe is with Homeless Youth Alliance. She's made it a habit to pick up needles on her own. "If we are really going to solve the issue and make a dent, we have to be creative," she said.

The plan will cost $6 million and will be included in the mayor's June 1 budget proposal.

RELATED: Group launches crowdfunding campaign for homeless on SF's Haight Street

Click here for more stories and videos related to drug addiction.
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.