Why One Drug Is Leading San Francisco’s Worst Epidemic

by : Daniel Richardson on : 16 Jun 2021 18:19
PA Images/Pixabay

San Francisco is facing its worst drug epidemic, with 2021 on course to be a record-breaking year for overdose deaths.

Dr Colwell, who is the chief of emergency medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, has highlighted a drug epidemic in San Francisco. The doctor is finding a significant number of overdoses from fentanyl, in particular.


The doctor explained that the clinical use of fentanyl expanded in the 1990s – used as a substitute for morphine due to its effect being immediate. Nonetheless, it is now being made illegally and mixed with other drugs as it’s distributed.

fentanyl (PA Images)PA Images

Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Dr Colwell noted:

It’s really remarkable because it runs the entire spectrum. This affects all walks of life, all folks. It’s hard to overstate how impactful it can be to anyone. It doesn’t seem to care about race or background or gender — or anything.


Colwell also explained how the drug is impacting the existing opioid epidemic:

Our most immediate threat right now is the opioid epidemic and the trauma we are seeing. We are seeing increases I haven’t seen in my career around dependency and overdoses, mostly involving fentanyl. We always had problems with opioids, specifically heroin, but fentanyl has changed the whole landscape of drugs.

Fentanyl (PA Images)PA Images

Part of the issue surrounding fentanyl is how easy it is to get hold of.


Dr Phillip Coffin, director of substance use research for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said:

It is easy to produce, it is cheap to produce, it is easy to move from one location to another, and it is more efficient in terms of the effect you get for the dollar you spend.

The people who are trading in drugs have switched to fentanyl because it’s so much easier. The people buying are largely dependent on what’s available.

Currently, San Francisco is seeing a record-breaking number of overdoses this year, with the numbers being partly attributed to fentanyl. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has noted that there have been 252 deaths because of overdoses between January and April this year – 182 involved fentanyl.

Drugs (PA Images)PA Images

On the back of this serious issue, there have been calls for action to be taken. Juliana DePietro, director of harm reduction services at the Glide Foundation, has called for treatment programmes to be implemented.

DePietro said:

They [emergancy rooms] mentioned that a lot of folks come in after overdosing in the evenings, and then when they’re discharged, there’s nowhere for them to go.

There are no treatment programs to take people at midnight. We know people are more susceptible to overdose again after being discharged

The police are also increasing raids on illegal fentanyl producers, although there are concerns about its over-criminalisation leading to more dangerous distribution.


If you want friendly, confidential advice about drugs, you can talk to FRANK. You can call 0300 123 6600, text 82111 or email via http://www.talktofrank.com/contact 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, or livechat at http://www.talktofrank.com/livechat from 2pm-6pm any day of the week.

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Daniel Richardson

After graduating from university, Dan went on to work with a variety of tech startups and media outlets. These included the likes of The Hook, WhatCulture and Game Rant. Eventually, Dan found a home for his journalism at UNILAD.

Topics: News, Drugs, Now, San Francisco


SFGate and 1 other
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