SF health officials tout medication that reverses overdoses

San Francisco health officials are touting The City’s novel approach that began in 2013 to prescribe a medication that helps reverse the effects of opiates like morphine or oxycodone when patients are given those drugs.

More than a decade ago, The City paved the way in addressing heroin overdoses by becoming the first health department in the U.S. to distribute naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. Such a move helped drastically reduce the number of heroin overdoses from 120 in 2000 to 10 each year between 2010 and 2012, health officials said.

Now a program that launched in 2013 to distribute the reversal drug naloxone along with prescription opiates has also been deemed successful, said Dr. Phillip Coffin, director of substance use research for the Department of Public Health.

“We want to make sure that people can be safe with their medications,” Coffin said. “When we prescribe naloxone to people on pain medications, we think of it as a medication safety.”

In recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day on Monday, the health department has released statistics that show a declining number of fatal heroin overdoses in recent years as well as its increase in naloxone prescriptions to patients on opiates for pain.

Since 2013, the health department has prescribed naloxone to around 800 patients in conjunction with an opiate prescription related to pain. That followed the deaths of some 300 people in San Francisco who died from prescription opioid overdoses between 2010 and 2012.

The Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project (DOPE), a program of the Harm Reduction Coalition that’s funded by the health department, began distributing naloxone to users, syringe access programs, community clinics, jails and single-room occupancy units in 2003.

San Francisco Police Department officers assigned to the Central, Southern, Mission, Northern and Tenderloin stations have also received naloxone kits as part of a two-year pilot program funded by the health department.

Laura Dudnick

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