USA: San Francisco and the fentanyl overdose

Status: 01/17/2022 10:31 a.m

For a long time, San Francisco was considered a role model when it came to dealing with drugs. Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, however, the US city has lost control. Almost every day two people die there from an overdose.

By Marcus Schuler, ARD Studio Los Angeles

So far, the US city of San Francisco has been known for its liberal drug policy – and for treating drug addiction as a disease. The city gave the addicts clean syringes, provided premises and offered help with quitting – for example with the substitute drug methadone.

A few days ago, however, the Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, pulled the emergency brake and declared a state of emergency for the Tenderloin district – the center of the city.

“Residents shouldn’t have to be constantly looking around on the street or afraid of being randomly punched in the face,” says Breed. “You shouldn’t have to see someone sticking a needle into different parts of their body, lying on the street and wondering, ‘How can I help here?’ ” said the mayor.

Main problem fentanyl

The declaration of a state of emergency is a reversal. Rescue workers can now refer drug addicts to hospitals or rehab clinics against their will. Special response teams now visit any drug addict who nearly died from an overdose within 72 hours, offering housing and drug rehabilitation.

The main problem is fentanyl, says paramedic Michael Mason: “Fentanyl is mixed into almost every drug in San Francisco – whether meth, cocaine or heroin. This triples the risk of an overdose.” The number of people who have died from an overdose has doubled in the past two years.

Physician Joanne Sun, who runs the emergency room at Saint Francis Hospital near the Tenderloin neighborhood, confirms what paramedic Mason says: She feels that sufferers often overdose on fentanyl. “They often don’t even know the drug is fentanyl. They were planning to buy crystal or cocaine,” Sun said.

Fentanyl is immediately addictive

Fentanyl is a synthetic drug that is 100 times more potent than morphine. The bad thing about it: Fentanyl is immediately addictive. Since the beginning of the pandemic, hard drugs have often been used alone, with no one there to call a doctor in an emergency. The number of overdose deaths in San Francisco is now three times higher than in large cities like Los Angeles or New York.

Axel Postinett has lived in the formerly trendy Tenderloin neighborhood for eleven years. The German journalist reports on Silicon Valley and the US west coast for the “Handelsblatt”. “Drug dealers and addicts looking for drugs come from all over the Tenderloin,” says Postinett.

711 drug overdose deaths in 2020

A few years ago, San Francisco averaged fewer than 200 overdose deaths a year. In mid-2018, the numbers began to skyrocket, and in the first pandemic year, 2020, 711 people died from an overdose in the city – more than double the number from the coronavirus.

Postinett has considered moving out of the neighborhood several times: “There are people lying on the sidewalk, there are tents set up on the sidewalk that you walk past,” the journalist describes his impressions of the neighborhood. “Needles lying on the street and yes, frankly, a lot of excrement. And very few of them are from dogs. That’s the tenderloin.”

Overdose cause of death: San Francisco declares drug emergency

Marcus Schuler, ARD Los Angeles, 13.1.2022 09:39 a.m

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