San Francisco Marks 600th Overdose Death Prevented

For the past eight years, the San Francisco Department of Public Health has been handing out the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) in a bid to reduce heroin overdose deaths. This week, the city marked what it said was the 600th life saved by using the overdose-reversal drug.

This drug stops heroin overdoses -- 600 so far in San Francisco (wikimedia.org)
The city distributes naloxone through needle-exchange sites, nonprofit organizations, and community organizations that deal with injection drug users. The department also prescribes the drug to people in residential hotels and the friends and families of heroin users, and conducts training sessions in the county jail.

Not only have hundreds of overdose deaths been averted, but the department also reported that heroin-related visits to the city's emergency rooms had declined by half between 2004 and 2009.

The lifesaving measure is funded by a department expenditure of $73,000 a year, which goes to the Oakland-based Drug Overdose and Prevention Education Project (DOPE Project). DOPE uses the money to buy and distribute the drug and train people on how to use it.

"San Francisco has always been a heroin town," Alice Gleghorn, DPH's head of Community Behavioral Health Services told the SF Weekly. "At one time, San Francisco had an overdose death every day, and that rate has really gone down. I hope our naloxone programs have contributed to that drop. But we don't have the money to do the research."

Eliza Wheeler, director of the DOPE Project, compared naloxone to insulin and said its use posed few problems for injection drug users. "The folks we see are pretty adept with administering drugs, so they'll be okay. People are very capable and willing to save their friends' lives... my experience is that people are really proud of themselves," Wheeler said.

Harm reduction is saving lives in San Francisco. Perhaps other cities and counties should take heed.

San Francisco, CA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Where’s the Gratitude?

Prohibitionists need to be celebrating a benchmark victory in San Francisco’s drug policy.  One in this case which has saved 600 lives and counting.

What’s that you say?  The DEA/ONDCP industrial complex hates San Francisco?  And it deplores saving the lives of heroin addicts?  Ah, too bad.  I suppose this counts as a defeat for the forces of persecution.  I can live with that, even if the persecutors can’t.

Giordano

Naloxone

Bravo to the DOPE Project for helping to reduce overdose deaths.  I write as a person whose son's life was saved through the use of narcan.  If you are a parent of a child who you know or suspect uses heroin or other opioids please reach out to DOPE or other harm reduction programs (google it!) and make it your primary focus to immediately get the information you need to recognize the signs of overdose and how to respond.  Make sure you have narcan on hand and know how to use it.  Do not wait for someone else to GIVE you this information.  Again - many thanks to Eliza Wheeler and those who do this important work. 

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