San Francisco wants to open a safe place to fight drugs to fight the overdose epidemic
San Francisco faced an epidemic of terrible proportions – in addition to the COVID crisis. In the City by the Bay, three times as many people died from overdoses as the coronavirus in 2020 – a total of two deaths per day.
On Wednesday Mayor London Breed announced that the city would push ahead with a plan that many hope will solve the dire problem. A 30 bed (20 while social distancing) drug disenchantment center where people can spend up to 10 hours of a potentially treacherous high under the care of health professionals.
The center would be one of the first of its kind in the country. It is said to be located in the South of Market district and to pursue a similar harm reduction strategy as the city’s alcohol disenchantment center, which has been in operation since 2003. At the beginning of last year, a smaller drug disenchantment center was opened in the Tenderloin district. but had to be closed when the COVID crisis began.
Most of the people who died of overdoses in San Francisco last year used fentanyl, a synthetic drug estimated to be 20 times more potent than heroin. The second deadliest substance was meth, followed by cocaine and heroin. 27 percent of the deceased were homeless.
The city’s harm reduction workers say that on-site protection has resulted in a higher death rate from overdoses, as drug users are more likely to get high on their own. This theory is tested when you look at the national overdose death rates, which hit a record high in 2020, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
San Francisco’s overdose numbers could be even higher if efforts like drug overdose prevention and education were not put in place [DOPE] Project, a city funded program that monitors overdose responses. The DOPE project estimates that administering Narcan averted around 2,155 potential overdoses – another reason to provide users with safe places to take their medication and a place to go after taking them.
The proposed drug disenchantment center would welcome users of any substance, but staff would be specially trained in dealing with those with methamphetamine-induced psychosis. Currently, in such situations, the city’s Rapid Response Team has few options other than getting people to the overcrowded emergency rooms of SF public hospitals. The center would also have on-site social workers ready to connect drug users to ongoing addiction treatment services.
The cost to keep the center up and running is estimated at $ 2 million and $ 4.2 million to keep it open each year. The plan will now be submitted to the city’s board of directors for approval.
Proponents of harm reduction and mental health care for the city say the need for the center is urgent, but this current plan is unlikely to stem the tide of death from overdose alone.
“I’m glad we move forward and get this done, although we’re sure to find that we need more than one,” supervisor Rafael Mandelman, co-chair of the city’s meth task force, told the San Francisco Chronicle.