SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The annual report on citywide substance use trends by the San Francisco Department of Public Health has revealed that overdose deaths rose in 2019 to 441 — up from 259 deaths in 2018.

According to the report, the rise in deaths is linked to the use of the opioid drug Fentanyl, although in some cases methamphetamine or a
combination of the two played factors in the overdoses.

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Despite the spike, however, in more than 2,600 other overdose incidents last year, the opioid antidote naloxone was able to save lives.

“Long before COVID-19, another epidemic was profoundly affecting the lives of people in San Francisco,” Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax
said in a statement. “As we grieve the losses of 2019, we also celebrate the compassion and decisive, life-saving action of community members, first responders and health care providers who work every day to prevent and reverse drug overdose.”

Also last year, while fewer San Franciscans were admitted to residential substance use treatments programs, the use of medications like
buprenorphine to treat substance use and prevent overdose is increasing, health officials reported.

Health officials additionally noted in 2019 higher overdose mortality rates among men, people in their 50s, and African Americans.

Officials plan on using the data to develop new metrics to guide the city’s data-driven response to the overdose crisis, focusing on
vulnerable communities, particularly the African American community.

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“San Francisco has many innovative ways to care for people who use drugs, but no American city has been able to withstand the arrival of
fentanyl without increases like these,” DPH Director of Substance Use Research Dr. Phillip O. Coffin, who was the lead author of the annual

“We are saving lives, preventing disease, and helping people access treatment. We also know that we can do more, and these data show us
where we can target our efforts to make the greatest impact,” he said.

DPH currently funds the Harm Reduction Coalition’s Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (DOPE) Project, which aims to expand naloxone
distribution and train residents on identifying overdose signs and responding with nasal naloxone kits.

According to DOPE Project Manager Kristen Marshall, educating people who use drugs and other community members about overdose is crucial to fighting the epidemic.

“Though our city’s overdose death numbers have been steadily increasing since fentanyl became a staple in our street drug supply, it is
because of the work of people who use drugs that more people survive their overdoses in San Francisco than pass away from them,” she said.

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Despite challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, city health officials are pushing forward with implementing Mental Health SF, the city’s
mental health reform plan passed last year. With funding pending voter approval of a business tax measure in this November’s election, the health department has plans to open drug sobering centers, expand access to buprenorphine, deploy street crisis response teams and behavioral health clinicians, and enhance care coordination for patients.