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SF Supe Declares Public Health Emergency As Fatal Drug Overdoses Spike

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The day after San Francisco police reported a significant decrease in violent crime, alarming new numbers arose Wednesday about fatal drug overdoses in the city.

According to the San Francisco medical examiner, 290 people died of fentanyl or heroin related overdoses in 2019.

William Buehlman, the outreach coordinator at GLIDE Memorial Church who has been working with those on the streets for nearly 20 years, said the amount of overdoses is "unprecedented."

"I've never seen it like this," he said. He says fentanyl in particular is a much more potent drug, requiring more the use of the drug medicine Narcan to reverse overdoses.

"We're having to give several doses routinely now. That hasn't been the case in the past with heroin," he said. But heroin, often black tar on the streets, isn't clear of fentanyl, either.

"A lot of even the tar heroin is cut with fentanyl at the upper levels now because the cartels are doing that to compete," Buehlman said. And the Drug Enforcement Administration backs this claim up.

"Sales of the drug can translate into substantial profits for cartels. It also means the black market of counterfeit pills has been flooded with an extremely deadly substance in which the lethal margin of error for those who use these drugs is minutely small," said Daniel Comeaux, DEA Special Agent in Charge.

Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district encompasses some of the hardest hit areas, declared a public health emergency.

"What it's gonna take is a different sort of emergency crisis level response. More folks out there doing street outreach--more access to Narcan--targeting our law enforcement and prosecution to prevent these particularly dangerous drugs," Haney said.

Haney also says there need to be more treatment options and shelter beds for those who want to get off the drugs and off the streets in the city.

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