S.F. sees record overdose deaths, even as police seize millions of lethal fentanyl doses. What is happening?


Kelly Stanphill simply desires one thing to vary for her son, who’s someplace in San Francisco, drug-addled, gaunt and helplessly hooked on fentanyl.

So each time she hears of a Tenderloin drug bust — just like the 10 pounds of fentanyl that have been seized by federal authorities final month — she will be able to’t assist however really feel a tiny little bit of justice and hope that her son’s infinite provide of medication will lastly dry up.

However then, the truth units in.

“It’s not altering something,” she stated, sighing. “Persons are nonetheless dying, two a day. It’s not serving to.”

Greater than 630 individuals died of overdoses in San Francisco from January to the top of November, a brand new file and a staggering improve from 441 in all of 2019. Amid the wave of loss of life this spring, the San Francisco Police Division elevated the variety of officers centered on drug sellers within the Tenderloin — notably these promoting fentanyl to individuals like Stanphill’s 26-year-old son.

However the added give attention to the long-troubled neighborhood didn’t cease the surge of fatalities in 2020, most of which occurred in and around the Tenderloin. At the same time as police seized probably thousands and thousands of deadly doses of fentanyl — an opioid that may be 50 to 100 instances stronger than morphine — greater than 70% of the individuals who died had the drug of their system.

Overdoses killed greater than thrice as many individuals in San Francisco final 12 months as COVID-19, and the drug epidemic reveals no signal of slowing. Specialists are divided over the best way to management it. The difficulty has largely pitted police and federal authorities towards advocates for customers and a progressive new district lawyer, who favor remedy greater than enforcement.

Many fear that 2021 can be one other traditionally lethal 12 months, because the pandemic disrupts lives and fentanyl permeates the drug provide. Metropolis leaders agree San Francisco wants elevated assist from the federal authorities and extra strong drug remedy providers, however they disagree on how authorities ought to punish street-level sellers who typically come from out of city and are easily replaced after they’re arrested.

Within the backdrop is a nationwide reckoning over how police work together with weak communities, like homeless, mentally ailing and drug-addicted individuals. And the elevated name for providers comes as San Francisco faces a multimilliondollar funds deficit attributable to the pandemic, which is able to drive tough choices this 12 months on what sources get funded, and which get reduce.

As the town struggles to get a deal with on the fentanyl epidemic, Stanphill has watched her son slip additional into dependancy.

“We will’t simply stick Band-Aids on individuals,” she stated from her house in Roseville (Placer County). … We simply want extra assist. Extra accessible assist. Reasonably priced assist. And first rate assist.

“It’s my child,” she added.


Stanphill shows a picture of her son, who is addicted to the fentanyl he buys from dealers in the Tenderloin, where law enforcement is trying to limit sales of the drug.

Stanphill reveals an image of her son, who’s hooked on the fentanyl he buys from sellers within the Tenderloin, the place legislation enforcement is attempting to restrict gross sales of the drug.

Photographs by Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Generally, Stanphill needs that her son was nonetheless utilizing simply heroin.

“As a result of when he was solely on heroin, I may form of talk with him,” she stated. “I might hear from him, I might see him, I may truly spend a day with him. … However the fentanyl has made him like a zombie.”

When he’s sober, Stanphill stated, her son with putting blue-green eyes is charming and type, with a fast humorousness. She stated his dependancy started when he was round 14 with Xanax that he received from different college students at college, which he took to calm his nervousness from being bullied. However after he began hanging with the improper crowd, his drug use rapidly escalated to cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine after which heroin.

Stanphill stated she has tried every part — from particular training sources for him in highschool, to greater than a dozen rehab providers, to medication-assisted remedy to even strolling across the Tenderloin on the lookout for him. She has reached the purpose the place she simply desires him to have constant entry to wash needles and a safer drug provide, till he’s able to strive kicking his dependancy once more.

“Fentanyl provides him that small reduction of escaping, and it’s so low-cost,” she stated. “It makes him really feel nothing.”

An individual can die from simply 2 milligrams of fentanyl, a fraction of the deadly dose for heroin. The potent opioid is a significant cause that 2020 was in all probability the deadliest year for overdoses in recorded historical past, in keeping with the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. In accordance with the San Francisco health worker, 453 of the 636 individuals who died of overdoses from January to the top of November had fentanyl of their system.

That’s why the San Francisco Police Division is stepping up arrests of those that promote the drug, no matter how a lot they’re carrying, Chief Invoice Scott stated. In accordance with the Police Division, officers made 600 arrests for drug gross sales within the Tenderloin and seized 192.2 ounces of fentanyl in 2020. That compares with 522 drug-related arrests and 43.8 ounces seized in 2019. Notably, the Tenderloin narcotics unit was suspended firstly of the pandemic, which led to fewer arrests from March to Might.

“It doesn’t take a complete lot of fentanyl to kill,” Scott stated. “Had we not confiscated over (192.2 ounces) of fentanyl … one has to assume what that might have executed when it comes to having much more overdoses.”





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