While drug overdoses increased around the country during the pandemic, in San Francisco, they skyrocketed, claiming 713 lives last year, more than double the 257 people here who died of the virus in 2020, with one study suggesting that the city has more overdoses per capita than any major city on the West Coast, reports the New York Times. The rate of drug deaths, roughly two a day, is due to the spread of Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful than heroin, throughout the city’s illicit drug market and a culture of relative tolerance toward drug use that has allowed it to spread quickly, especially among the city’s homeless population.
The overdose crisis is calling into question the city’s nonjudgmental tolerance of illicit drugs and adequacy of its programs that focus on providing users with clean needles and medication to reverse overdoses. City officials say they want to reinforce and expand this so-called harm reduction model. Critics agree harm reduction is necessary, but say something needs to be done to curtail the supply of drugs and reach out more aggressively to addicts. And the dangerous mix of fentanyl with the city’s existing homelessness crisis has experts worried that the pace of overdose deaths could increase because of the intractable nature of both problems. Surveys of drug users reveal that the percentage of people who are homeless has risen from roughly 25 percent when research first began to about 80 percent today.