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San Francisco overdose deaths top 800 in 2023; workers try to reverse trend

Community ambassadors in SF Tenderloin fight fentanyl epidemic amid rising overdoses
Community ambassadors in SF Tenderloin fight fentanyl epidemic amid rising overdoses 02:52

SAN FRANCISCO – Health officials in San Francisco noted a grim milestone in the city's opioid crisis, as the city experienced more overdose deaths last year than ever before.

According to the city's Department of Public Health, there were 806 overdose deaths in 2023, up from 647 deaths in 2022. The deaths were mostly due to fentanyl.

The previous record was in 2020, when 726 people died from overdoses.

As San Francisco sees a record number of deadly overdoses, workers on the front lines are trying to reverse this troubling trend.

Steven Rice and Terrill Jones, community ambassadors with Code Tenderloin, dedicate their days to saving lives in The Tenderloin.

"One of the things that we pass out is Narcan for the overdose prevention. We engage, we go through that particular type of Narcan training, and get an understanding on how this is used, how to engage with a person that's in the midst of ODing," Rice told CBS News Bay Area.

They work tirelessly to save as many lives as possible.

"We go into a lot of hotels where you don't see people and it don't look like a hot spot. But inside the hotels, they have no services. So we do follow-ups and check-ups," Jones said.

CBS News Bay Area met up with them while they were making their usual rounds near overdose hotspots like Taylor, Eddy, and Turk Streets.

"San Francisco alone cannot solve this problem of record overdose deaths. We rely on our city and community partners, our legislators at the local, state, and federal level to join us in this moment to continue to tackle this crisis," explained Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of the city's health department.

In a statement, Mayor London Breed said, "We will continue offering services, treatment, and finding ways to help people accept the care they need. We are also enforcing drug laws to shut down open-air drug markets."

"Right now, what we're hearing is people need tools to get where they need to go," added Donna Hilliard, Director of Code Tenderloin. "They just can't come off fentanyl just like that. They need on-demand detox centers. We need mental health facilities where we can take somebody. We don't need to tell someone, 'You're ready for rehab? You can get there tomorrow, maybe a week.' We need to be able to say, 'Yes. Let's take you somewhere right now.'"

And a big part of that effort is in the hands of what Steven and Terrill do every day out here.

"A lot of the faces that you see on these blocks, you see them every day, and we speak every day. 'Hey, this is what we're doing today, and maybe the next day or maybe the next day after they say, 'I wanna take you up on that offer. I remember last week you talked to me over here, and here today, I'm ready to take you up on that," concluded Jones.

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