SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Mayor London Breed has announced a proposal to fund a new Street Overdose Response Team to help stem the stunning rise of overdose deaths on San Francisco’s streets.

The program will be an immediate, street-based response for people experiencing homelessness who have recently experienced a non-fatal overdose to get them engaged and in treatment from behavioral health care specialists.

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SORT is part of San Francisco’s system of Street Response Teams launched in 2020 which includes the Street Crisis Response Team and the Street Wellness Response Team.

Early analysis of local data suggests more than 50% of individuals who died from an opioid overdose in 2020 had prior contact with San Francisco Fire Department EMS personnel in 2019 and 2020, which makes the fire department uniquely positioned to handle the immediate response.

For follow-up care, a more specialized care team will be required, officials said.

Clinical team members from the Department of Public Health will include a mix of peer specialists, medical specialists such as nurses and behavioral health specialists such as counselors and psychiatrists.

This multi-layered approach, officials said, will address the health care needs in a holistic way to allow for maximum success for the individual.

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“The overdose crisis on our streets requires a wide range of approaches, including meeting people where they are in the moment when we can get them the help they need,” Breed said. “By getting to people immediately and then being consistent with our follow-up, we hopefully can get them on the path to stabilization and to recovery. ”

City officials said that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a dramatic rise in the number of overdose fatalities on San Francisco streets. The deaths reached a historic high of 699 accidental fatal overdoses.

According to health officials, synthetic opioids, such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl, are a primary driver in overdose deaths both nationally and locally.

According to new data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 87,000 Americans died of drug overdoses between September 2019 and September 2020, the highest ever recorded since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

“DPH is pleased to further build on the innovative and successful model of the street response teams — this time with a team targeting the unique needs of people on the streets who have survived a drug overdose,” said Director of Health, Dr. Grant Colfax. “This is a critical window of time when we can offer people life-saving medicine, show them that we care and have services on hand which they can access right then and there.”

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The Street Overdose Response Team will require an investment of $11.4 million over two years, and will consist of:

  • Two Response Units: Provide real-time response to individuals who have experienced a recent non-fatal overdose and are identified to have an opioid use disorder. This will be an opportunity to provide initial treatment and prevention tools, including medication assisted treatment.
  • Three Follow-Up Units: Engage clients within 72 hours of the initial contact from Response Units to provide continued care including withdrawal management, long-term treatment referral, physical and mental health services, as well as shelter and housing.
  • Supervisory Team: Oversee field operations, provide clinical oversight, and maintain a centralized care center for engaged clients.