“He needs Narcan.”
As San Francisco grapples with the effects of the opioid crisis, these three words are growing more and more common on city streets.
Just a few days ago, San Francisco supervisors Matt Haney and Aaron Peskin were outside City Hall when a man called out for the life-saving medication. Luckily, a passerby heeded the call, delivering a dose of Narcan to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose.
“There are moments when we personally can step up and support somebody who’s in crisis — in this case, somebody who may be in danger of dying,” Haney said. “Overdose deaths are preventable, and Narcan saves lives.”
Determing when somebody is overdosing on opioids and administering Narcan, also known as naloxone, was the purpose of a free training session held at City Hall Wednesday. Haney, who hosted the event, represents District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, two areas particularly hit by the opioid crisis.
The training was originally intended for only city staff and other supervisors, but Haney opened it to the public, hoping to enlist more people to help combat opioid overdose deaths in The City. Members of the Drug Overdose Prevention Education (DOPE) project taught attendees how to recognize the symptoms of an overdose, and engage with the person overdosing to administer the Narcan nasal spray. Everyone was given a two-dose box of the spray at the end of the session.
Symptoms of opioid overdose include: unresponsiveness to yelling or stimulation; slow, shallow breathing; a pale complexion with blue or grey lips and fingers; and a choking or gurgling sound, said DOPE project manager Kristen Marshall. Narcan should be administered and 911 called if someone is found exhibiting these symptoms and cannot be roused to consciousness, she said.
“The ability to make sure that Narcan is widely available and that people know how to use it is a huge part of the solution to save lives,” Haney said. “I’m really grateful for the work of the DOPE project and Department of Public Health, for their leadership and making sure that community-based outreach is leading the way and that we’re getting Narcan in the hands of more people, we’re training more folks and we’re making sure that people are prepared to save the lives of neighbors if the time comes.”
As a District 6 resident, Google software engineer Kathy Li is no stranger to the overt drug use on the streets and the people slumped along sidewalks.
“Living near Civic Center I frequently see a lot of other residents, my neighbors on the street, who may need this kind of help,” Li said. “I’d like to learn how to identify when someone could use this life-saving solution.”
Despite the training providing “good, concrete information,” Li said she is still wary about administering the medication herself, but appreciated that the speakers did not refer to drug users as criminals. She also was glad that they discussed the stigmas surrounding the topic of helping those who use drugs.
“People who are experiencing homelessness, people who are experiencing the largest set of health disparities, are even more at risk for overdose and overdose death,” Marshall said. “So, I always think it’s really, really critical to talk about the intersections of homelessness, poverty, race, gender and sexual orientation to make sure that we’re addressing everyone’s needs and closing all the gaps when it comes to meeting people where they’re at and addressing their risk.”
The free training comes on the heels of Haney introducing a resolution at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, declaring street drug use and “rapidly increasing opioid overdose deaths” a public health crisis and imploring the Department of Public Health to launch an emergency response, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.
The board on Tuesday also approved separate legislation from Haney that establishes a task force to help draft a better plan to address street-level drug dealing and drug use.
Haney said another free session specifically geared toward the public will be held at Glide Memorial Church sometime in October.