Editorial: Killer cocaine hits San Francisco. Here's how to avoid overdose death – San Francisco Examiner

After overdose deaths, city officials say fentanyl tests strips can save lives
Fentanyl (Courtesy photo)
By The Examiner Editorial Board
Cocaine users, beware: A particularly deadly supply of drugs potentially laced with fentanyl has washed into San Francisco, resulting in overdose deaths for people who likely had no idea they were ingesting the deadly opioid.
City officials are raising the alarm after three recent overdose deaths involving people who died after using cocaine tainted with fentanyl, the synthetic opioid responsible for the vast majority of overdose deaths in The City. Others have overdosed but survived. The rising threat inspired District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen to publicly urge drug users to exercise vigilance and test their drugs for fentanyl contamination.
“NEW PRECAUTIONS IMPORTANT WHENEVER CONSIDERING DRUG USE (please share widely),” wrote Ronen on Twitter. “In the past 2 weeks, 3 young adults died of overdose after intending to use only cocaine that was unknowingly laced w/ fentanyl. There were 9 similar non-fatal overdoses in 2 separate groups of friends.”
She urged San Franciscans to obtain free fentanyl test strips at the Community Behavioral Health Services pharmacy at 1380 Howard St. Anyone who walks into the pharmacy can get three fentanyl test strips for free, no questions asked. An employee who answered the phone on Wednesday confirmed that the fentanyl test strips remain in stock and said there had been an uptick of requests.
The Examiner Editorial Board does not condone the use of hard drugs, but the reality is that people do use these substances — and not just homeless people in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and SoMa. Two weeks ago, three people died of accidental overdose in a house on 19th Street in the Mission District. And let’s not pretend that drugs have not been a mainstay of certain party scenes in neighborhoods like Cow Hollow, the Marina and Pacific Heights.
Fentanyl kills rich and poor alike, and the deadly opioid’s presence in the nation’s drug supply has the potential to turn parties into funerals. In September, actor Michael K. Williams died after overdosing on heroin laced with fentanyl. Two weeks ago, five cadets from the United States Army’s elite West Point academy narrowly avoided death after overdosing on fentanyl-laced cocaine while on spring break in Florida.
Illicit drug dealers and manufacturers cut fentanyl into other drugs because it’s cheap and provides an easy way to cut costs. Unfortunately, a tiny amount of fentanyl is enough to kill. Yet unscrupulous drug sellers use it to adulterate other drugs without warning buyers of what they’re actually putting into their bodies.
Fentanyl contamination in illicit drugs has been a problem for years. The Drug Enforcement Administration, which confiscated more than 20 million counterfeit pills last year, estimates that 4 out of every 10 counterfeit pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. This means people buying fake Oxycontin, Percocet, Xanax or Adderall on the underground market are playing Russian roulette.
“Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Recreational drug use, especially of cocaine or opioids, is not a healthy thing ever,” said Ronen in an interview, “but it’s especially dangerous now that fentanyl seems to have infected the entire drug supply in San Francisco.”
Those planning to use drugs must take extra precautions if they want to stay alive, Ronen said. These steps include keeping a supply of naloxone on hand (to reverse potential overdoses), never using drugs while alone, making sure at least one sober person is present in case of overdose — and always using fentanyl test strips before putting a drug into your bloodstream.
For free fentanyl test strips, visit Community Behavioral Health Services pharmacy at 1380 Howard St.
If you need help dealing with substance abuse or addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential help and referral to treatment services.
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