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Fentanyl deaths surged 150% last year in San Francisco last year, report reveals

Fentanyl deaths surged 150% last year in San Francisco last year, report reveals

  • In 2018, 89 people died of fentanyl overdoses in San Francisco, city health department data reveal 
  • That marks a 150% increase over 2017, and a 300% increases over 2016 
  • In the first quarter of 2019 alone, 39 people have fatally overdosed on fentanyl

Fentanyl deaths in San Francisco surged by 150 percent between 2017 and 2018, a new report reveals. 

The potent synthetic drug has become the major driving force behind the American opioid epidemic, overwhelming the systems of even experienced users. 

Encouragingly, opioid overdose deaths finally declined in the US as a whole between 2017 and 2018, but insufficiently checked drug company transport of the drug is still allowing it to travel coast to coast and wind up in the hands of Americans. 

That includes San Francisco residents, 89 of whom died of fentanyl overdoses last year – more than were killed by heroin or prescription painkillers in the same year, according to figures finalized last week by the city’s health department. 

In 2018, 89 people fatally overdosed on the potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl (pictured) in San Francisco, marking a 150% increase over 2017’s death toll (file) 

No state in the US has been untouched by fentanyl. 

The drug first began to flood the markets in New England around 2013. 

There, the distributors could more easily lace cheaper, more addictive fentanyl into heroin because the supply was predominantly white powdered heroin, a regional Drug Enforcement Agency specialist told NPR. 

Fentanyl took longer to find its way into the South, where black tar heroin was the more prevalent form of the drug. 

But fentanyl has seen a boom since then, and San Diego, California, has become the ‘gateway’ for the drug to come into the US across the southern border, said US attorney Robert Brewer. 

San Francisco, which has long had a large population of injection drug users, has been flooded by fentanyl coming in from that gateway and elsewhere. 

The drug has disguised as OxyContin pills, but is some 30 times more powerful than the prescription pill, so it can easily overwhelm the systems of users accustomed to injecting heroin or taking OxyContin. 

Fentanyl is now being used to cut cocaine and methamphetamine as well.  

‘It’s not a huge surprise to see this, although it’s certainly disappointing and sad to have lost this many lives in this city,’ Dr Phillip Coffin, director of substance use research for the San Francisco Department of Public Health told the San Francisco Chronicle. 

‘Unfortunately, there is no locality that can withstand the introduction of fentanyl without some increase in mortality.’ 

Of the 89 deaths, most overdose victims were young, and male, a pattern common in fatal fentanyl overdoses. 

Preliminary reports had estimated the deaths would be high – in the 50s – but the final tally was much higher. 

The 89 deaths marked a 150 percent increase over the previous year, and a 300 percent increase from 2016. 

Already in 2019, 39 people overdosed on fentanyl within the first quarter, putting this year on track to be as deadly – if not more so – than the last. 

The city’s paramedics gave naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, to 1,647 people last year. 

Another 1,658 doses of the life-saving drug were administered by lay people on the city’s streets, and San Francisco and local harm reduction groups continue to try to distribute naloxone as widely as fentanyl is used in an effort to stem the climbing death toll.          


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