The City will allocate $1.6 million towards the fentanyl crisis, which would help fund Peer Overdose Prevention Specialists at SROs to provide naloxone and training to their neighbors, as well as monitor wall-mounted naloxone supplies. (Shutterstock)

The City will allocate $1.6 million towards the fentanyl crisis, which would help fund Peer Overdose Prevention Specialists at SROs to provide naloxone and training to their neighbors, as well as monitor wall-mounted naloxone supplies. (Shutterstock)

Fatal drug overdoses on pace to surpass last year’s historic high

Supervisors approve $1.6 million in funding to help address rising deaths

San Francisco’s fatal drug overdoses are up 69 percent so far in 2021 compared to the same time last year, putting The City on pace to easily surpass 2020’s historic high of about 700 deaths largely attributed to the potent synthetic drug fentanyl.

The latest preliminary figures were released Tuesday by the Medical Examiner’s Office, which only recently started to provide regular updates of suspected drug overdose deaths to provide a more timely picture of the crisis.

The report shows that fatal drug overdoses in January totaled 71 and in February 66, for a total of 137. That is a 69 percent increase compared to the first two months of last year, when there were 38 fatal drug overdoses in January 2020 and 43 in February 2020, for a total of 81 in the first two months of last year.

Since the reporting of the fatal overdose data by the Medical Examiner’s Office is preliminary, it is subject to change. The latest total number of drug overdose deaths for 2020 is now at 708, whereas it was previously reported at 699.

Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district includes the Tenderloin and SoMa, where a large number of the overdose deaths occur, has called for increased attention to the issue.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved spending $1.6 million to help address overdose deaths. The funding is part of a more than $100 million spending package using surplus revenues from the current fiscal year to address a myriad of issues including unpaid rent, affordable housing and small businesses in need of grants, which Haney announced last week with Mayor London Breed.

About $1 million will go toward overdose prevention in Single Room Occupancy hotels (SROs) and similar housing over the next two years. It will fund overdose prevention training for staff and residents of the buildings and provide naloxone supplies including wall-mounts.

The remaining $600,000 will fund a new street outreach team of health educators and counselors focused on preventing overdose deaths and referring people to treatment.

Haney also announced Tuesday he was introducing legislation to require all city departments and those who receive city grants to create and implement overdose prevention policies. This would include shelters, navigation centers and supportive housing buildings.

“Every single department and every single grantee and provider has to be part of the solution to stop overdoses and save lives,” Haney said in a statement. ” At many of these sites, there isn’t adequate training, access to Narcan, effective monitoring of people at risk of overdose, or access to treatment and harm reduction.”

The legislation would also require city departments like the Department of Public Health and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to submit annual reports to the Board of Supervisors detailing the direct services they provided to reduce overdoses.

Haney repeated his call for The City to address the fatal drug overdoses with the same vigor it has COVID-19, which has killed 451 people in the past year.

“The overdose crisis in our city is horrific and it is getting much worse,” Haney said. “We need a response to this crisis that mirrors the scale and focus of the data driven, coordinated approach we’ve seen to COVID-19.”

The Department of Public Health said in a statement that it “is working on multiple fronts to flatten the curve of overdose deaths in San Francisco.”

The department pointed to increasing naloxone training and providing it in more places as well as making it easier to access treatment.

“This $1.6 million is a good investment in this work, and we also know we need to do more, especially around expanding access to medication-assisted treatment,” the statement said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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