In 1 Major US City, Overdose Deaths Far Outpace Deaths from COVID

This month, San Francisco — along with most of the rest of California — was placed into a sweeping lockdown more restrictive than anything the state has seen since the COVID-19 crisis began in the spring.

According to The Associated Press, the lockdown was triggered by a drop in intensive care capacity; as soon as beds in ICU fell below 15 percent in certain areas of the state, measures that “include strict closures for businesses and a ban on gathering with anyone outside of your own household” were put into place. They’re scheduled to run until at least Sunday.

The entire state of California will be hit hard, of course. It’s not just the virus. The economic and personal misery are also taking a toll.

Nowhere is it being felt more acutely than San Francisco, where 621 people have died of drug overdoses since the beginning of the year compared with 173 who have died from COVID-19, according to a separate AP report.

Furthermore, from January to the beginning of November, 3,000 individuals were administered Narcan — a drug that counteracts opioid overdoses and brings people back from the brink of death.

“The data reflects the number of times people report using Narcan to the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project, a city-funded program that coordinates San Francisco’s response to overdose, or return to refill their supply,” the AP reported.

“Officials at the DOPE Project said that since the numbers are self-reported, they are probably a major undercount.”

According to the San Francisco Examiner, overdose deaths in 2020 had already outpaced 2019’s death total by August. At that point, 470 had died from overdoses, more than the 441 who died in all of 2019.

This isn’t to say the COVID-19 lockdowns are solely to blame. The powerful opiate fentanyl, which can be 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has contributed to a long-term trend of increasing overdose deaths in the city, from 222 in 2017 to the situation at present.

However, data released by city officials shows methamphetamine and cocaine have been significant drivers in overdose deaths.

2020 09_OCME Overdose Report by Joe Eskenazi

The AP reported many of the deaths occurred in low-income apartment buildings or city-funded hotel rooms for the homeless.

“Others died on sidewalks, in alleyways and parks around the city,” the AP reported.

Several factors were cited by the AP related to the COVID-19 lockdowns, including disruptions in treatment services and individuals who would normally be revived by others using in isolation.

However, the fact that San Francisco’s economy has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID lockdowns is something that has to be looked at.

According to data from the World Economic Forum released in October, 49 percent of small businesses in the city had closed, with lower-income, at-risk communities hit the hardest.

This was the most of any city looked at by the World Economic Forum. Only two other cities — New Orleans with 45 percent of small businesses closed and Honolulu with 41 percent closed — had numbers above 40 percent.

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The World Economic Forum also said that, at the time of the report, “New Orleans and the Bay Area are still experiencing rates of small business closures that are almost double the national median.”

In August, meanwhile, SFGate reported that 54 percent of the city’s storefronts had closed due to the pandemic.

San Francisco is hardly alone, either. Data released Dec. 17 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 81,000 individuals had died of drug overdoses in the year ending in May.

“While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the latest numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic,” a news release from the CDC read.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

“As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”

In short, cities around the country don’t have the slightest idea of how to deal with the combination of economic desolation and social isolation caused by COVID-19 lockdown policies.

Beyond that, recovery communities such as Narcotics Anonymous have been hit hard by social distancing regulations, which make in-person meetings all but impossible. Zoom meetings and telemedicine can only do so much, particularly when dealing with at-risk communities.

San Francisco’s website outlining its lockdown procedures has a familiar slogan plastered across the top of the page: “Stay home. Save lives.”

For those with a substance abuse problem, left without jobs, without community and with little hope, those words ring hollow.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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