Since 2020, more than double the number of people have died from overdoses in SF than from COVID. 

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Collaborative Efforts in SF: Doctors and Public Health Experts Address Overdose Epidemic
More than double the number of people have died from overdoses in SF than from COVID since 2020. 

Note: A recording of this press conference can be found here.

SAN FRANCISCO — Today, a diverse coalition of doctors, public health experts, and community organizations convened in front of the San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to address the pressing issue of the city’s overdose crisis. With heavy hearts, they commemorated the devastating loss of 3,026 lives to overdoses since January 2020 and called for urgent action to combat this public health emergency.

The gathering served as a somber reminder of the human toll of the overdose crisis, which has left countless families shattered and communities reeling. Each lost life represents more than just a statistic; it is a tragic reminder of the urgent need for effective intervention and support.

“3,000 deaths is an inconvenient truth because it highlights 3,000 failures in our public policy related to substance use,” said Dr. Dan Ciccarone. “It highlights that we are not listening to our policy experts or our doctors, and we are not following the accepted 2022 overdose plan. It shows we have not been consistent enough, creative, courageous, collaborative or comprehensive enough for our policies to be effective.”

Throughout the press conference, speakers passionately advocated for evidence-based public health solutions to address the overdose crisis. They emphasized the critical importance of deeper investment in prevention, treatment, and community-based initiatives to stem the tide of overdose fatalities.

One of the key themes echoed by speakers was the detrimental impact of stigma on individuals struggling with substance use disorder. They stressed the need to dismantle harmful stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding substance use disorder, highlighting how stigma can deter individuals from seeking lifesaving treatment and support.

“Stigma, marginalization and politicization remain a threat to our response to drugs for more than a century in this country,” said Gary McCoy, vice president of policy & public affairs at HealthRIGHT 360. “And the escalating [policy] responses to substances, not related to science and research, have been shown to exacerbate overdose deaths. I think it’s very important that we stop politicizing what works, and stop pitting harm reduction against abstinence. It’s all important, they are all tools in our toolbox, and they are all on the same continuum of care.” 

The event underscored the unintended impacts of utilizing carceral measures, which have contributed to the surge in overdose deaths. Instead of continuing with punitive measures, speakers called for increased investment in prevention, treatment, and community-oriented solutions to tackle the escalating overdose crisis.

“Sadly, the experience of losing someone is not unique,” said JuJu P., statewide fellow with Young Women’s Freedom Center. “Countless families in San Francisco have been torn apart by the overdose crisis, each one bearing the heavy burden of loss and mourning. It’s a tragedy that has devastated our community, leaving behind a trail of shattered lives and broken dreams. As grieving friends and family, we refuse to let our loved ones become mere statistics in this crisis. We demand action from our city leaders and policymakers to address the root causes of fentanyl addiction, expand access to treatment and support services, and prevent further loss of life. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Our loved ones deserve justice, and future generations deserve freedom.” 

The coalitionwhich consists of physicians, public health experts, and community organizations, including the Young Women’s Freedom CenterDrug Policy AllianceSF Public Defender’s OfficeThe Harm Reduction Therapy CenterHealthRIGHT 360 and the Do No Harm Coalitionreiterated its unwavering commitment to combating the overdose crisis through collective action and collaboration. The coalition called on policymakers, healthcare providers and community leaders to join forces in implementing comprehensive, evidence-based solutions that prioritize saving lives and building healthier, more resilient communities.