San Francisco drug users have outnumbered high school students, a new study in the San Fransisco Chronicle reports.
Today, there are about 24,500 drug users in San Francisco – 8,500 more than the nearly 16,000 students enrolled in San Francisco Unified School District’s 15 high schools.
The high volume of drug users have increased 2,000 since 2012 – which is the last time a study was done. And, in 2018, there were 193 drug overdose deaths in the city, of which 112 were from opioids.
San Francisco Drug Users
The most prominent area of visible use has been in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which sits on the southern slope of Nob Hill between the Union Square shopping district and the Civic Center. In 2018, police reported more than 600 arrests for drug deals in the area.
While the Tenderloin neighborhood has been an ongoing issue, drugs were particularly noticeable on city sidewalks near the Civic Center BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Station, where more police crackdowns happened in 2018. However, as the problem was cleaned up – it continues to run rampant in Tenderloin. However, overtime, drug users have been found collapsed inside stations, on streets, or on trains themselves – because they have nowhere else to go.
In another piece published by the San Fransisco Chronicle, one reporter describes his encounter with a homeless man on a BART train:
“On Christmas Day, I got on a train at Rockridge Station. I walked to the other end of the car and saw an older man with a shaggy white beard sitting in a seat reserved for the elderly and disabled. He had a dirt-caked blanket draped over his legs, a mangled walker in front of him. He rubbed his forehead as he swayed. His lips moved, but nothing audible came out.”
He went on, “As I watched him, I caught a whiff – it was like opening the lid of a garbage can with week-old used diapers in it. Then I noticed the brownish fluid streaming on the floor underneath his seat. At MacArthur Station, people stepped over the liquid like they were hopping over rain puddles.”
Saving Lives and Lowering Barriers
San Francisco Health Department spokeswoman, Rachael Kagan noted, “As to why people use drugs, that is a complicated question, and there are many factors. Our focus is on saving lives and lowering the barriers to treatment.”
While opioid and drug use continue to skyrocket in the metropolitan city, Health Department officials have begun to hand out naloxone, or Narcan, to first responders, street health teams, homeless drop-in center workers, and even library staffers.
In addition to the Narcan, access to methadone and buprenorphine has increasingly expanded in the city and harm-reduction programs hand out free syringes in an effort to reduce infections and disease transmission. Last year, the city handed out a record 5.8 million free syringes – about 500,000 more than in 2017.
Cleaning Up San Francisco
But, while the syringe program can help disease transmission, another major issue has been the clean up needles found in parks, on sidewalks, and in plain sight.
Last year, the city’s mayor, London Breed spent an extra $1.8 million to retrieve needles – resulting in 500,000 more syringes being dropped off in kiosks or picked up by cleanup crews compared to 2017.
Though, even with the efforts to clean up the abandoned syringes, in 2018, the Health Department handed out about 2 million more syringes than it got back.
While officials continue to attempt to improve the conditions of the city, will it be enough to crack down on the skyrocketed numbers of drug users?