Fentanyl link confirmed in Haight-Ashbury deaths

Examiner file photo

Three men who died of suspected drug overdoses in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood early Thursday appear to have been smoking cocaine and methamphetamine laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has been blamed for an increase in overdose deaths in some parts of the country, city health officials said today.

The men, who were all in their 30s, were found unresponsive in the 1500 block of Page Street around 4:30 a.m. and pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics a short time later, according to police. There were no signs of foul play and the deaths did not appear to be weather related, police said.

An analysis of a glass pipe found at the scene found traces of cocaine and methamphetamine as well as fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl, according to the Department of Public Health.

Preliminary screening for all three men show the presence of methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl in their bodies, which suggests that the methamphetamine was probably laced with the fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl.

Those results are preliminary and the medical examiner has not yet reached an official determination on the men’s cause of death.

SEE RELATED: Deaths of 3 men in Haight-Ashbury due to possible drug overdoses

Fentanyl, a fast-acting synthetic opioid prescribed as a pain reliever, has become increasingly common as a street drug and is blamed for a rise in overdose deaths in many communities. It is often used to cut other drugs and drug users may not realize what they are taking, putting them at risk of overdose, officials said.

Public health officials say that in San Francisco, 22 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2016, twice as many as in 2015. Of those cases, 45 percent also involved methamphetamine, 27 percent cocaine and 41 percent another opioid.

Fentanyl was found in counterfeit Xanax pills in San Francisco in October 2015 that led to three overdoses requiring hospitalization and one death. In May 2017, it was found in crack cocaine that caused three overdoses causing hospitalization and one death.

Public health officials are urging drug users and others to carry Narcan, a drug that can reverse overdoses when given in time. It is available without a prescription from the CBHS Pharmacy at 1380 Howard St. and from the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education project, as well as at syringe access sites.
Those using drugs are encouraged to try a small “tester” dose first to make sure they work as expected, to avoid using alone and make sure someone in a group is always alert to help others if needed.

Fentanyl test strips are also available from syringe access sites and from Glide Harm Reduction Services and the 6th Street Harm Reduction Center.

There were a total of 105 opioid overdose deaths in San Francisco in 2016, including the fentanyl-related deaths.

The City is working to open safe injection sites that would provide medical supervision and clean needles to injecting drug users in an effort to prevent overdose deaths and the spread of blood-borne diseases, as well as reduce resident complaints about discarded syringes and open drug use on city streets. The sites would also provide access to counseling and drug treatment options.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who represents the district that includes the Haight-Ashbury, plans to hold a community meeting at Saturday to discuss Thursday’s deaths as well as a shooting at Oak and Stanyan streets last Saturday that killed one man and injured another. The meeting will take place at 11:00 a.m at the Park Station Community Room at 1899 Waller St.

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