385 died of fentanyl overdose in SF this year; could set record, health officials say

"It pains me to share that this is the highest overdose deaths San Francisco has experienced."

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Fentanyl overdose deaths in SF could set record this year: Officials
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Despite efforts to curtail the fentanyl crisis in San Francisco, health officials are reporting that 71 people died of an accidental overdose in July.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Despite efforts to curtail the fentanyl crisis on San Francisco streets, the health department is reporting that 71 people died of an accidental overdose in the month of July alone. This puts the city on target to surpass the number of deaths for the entire year compared to the previous year.

The number of deaths so far this year due to those accidental overdoses in San Francisco prompted the health department to call for an emergency press conference.

"80% of the deaths to date in 2023, overdose deaths are now caused by Fentanyl," said San Francisco's Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax.

So far this year, 473 people have died of accidental overdoses, 385 of them due to fentanyl.

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

That number could surpass 800 deaths for the entire year.

"It pains me to share that this is the highest overdose deaths San Francisco has experienced," said Dr. Colfax

Why is San Francisco seeing more deaths due to fentanyl? When it was first introduced, people were mixing it with other drugs, but now according to a spokesperson for the Health Department, more drug users are opting for Fentanyl alone.

"Fentanyl has become cheaper, more potent and more available," added Colfax.

According to the health department, they are currently treating 25,000 people with substance and mental health issues and now expanding services and outreach, not to mention the distribution of more Narcan.

MORE: SF could soon mandate that overdose reversal drug Narcan be stocked in all pharmacies

Brett Rubin is a counselor who for years was addicted to heroin.

"We don't give up on anyone. If people say 'no thank you, go away, we don't want your help today,' we say how about a different day?" Rubin told us.

But as a matter of practicality, many more could die while waiting to decide if they are ready for treatment.

MORE: Advocates say arresting SF Tenderloin's drug users could set off even more overdose deaths

"What kind of life is this, exposed to the elements all the time trying to get by until your next fix, your next piece of life, you've got poop on the ground," said Jim Rauh, with Families Against Fentanyl. He had not been to San Francisco in several years so we invited him to walk with us.

He lost his son, Tom to Fentanyl and on Tuesday, was speaking to the American Chemical Society about the proliferation of the synthetic drug.

"This material can be dispersed in the air, food, or water in the most rudimentary way and this needs to be stopped before it brings down our country from the inside," said Rauh.

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