Fentanyl overdoses are on the rise, how can we combat it?


SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – Fatal fentanyl overdoses have rocked the nation over the course of the last half-decade, and the Bay Area has not been immune to what some doctors are calling a “crisis.”

According to the San Francisco Medical Examiner, there were 200 fatal overdoses in the city throughout the first 3 months of this year. A number that has skyrocketed by 41% compared to the same time frame last year.

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Putting the statistics into perspective, fentanyl is now killing more people than methamphetamine and heroin.

Doctor Daniel Ciccarone, the Justine Miner Professor of Addiction Medicine at UCSF, has committed his career to researching drug use and community medicine in marginalized populations. On Thursday, he joined KCBS Radio’s “As Prescribed” to discuss the fentanyl crisis.

“Nationally, we are in a historic, 20-plus-year [opioid overdose] epidemic. I’ve called it a triple wave epidemic,” Ciccarone said.

Ciccarone shared that over the last two decades, deaths caused by prescription pills were replaced by deaths caused by heroin, which has now been replaced by deaths caused by fentanyl.

“Fentanyl has come along and caused a historic spike in overdoses that this country has never seen before,” he said.

The data backs this up, as a report published this week in JAMA Pediatrics shows that in 2021, almost 70,000 adults in the U.S. overdosed on fentanyl, a number that has skyrocketed in recent years as the popularity of the drug increased.

Even more concerning, in 2021, there were also 1,550 pediatric deaths caused by fentanyl, a figure that has jumped 3,740% since 2013 when researchers said that the epidemic of overdose deaths caused by synthetic opioids started in the U.S.

While fatalities continue to rise, doctors like Ciccarone are continuing to try and find new ways to combat drug use.

One tool used to tackle the recent increases in fentanyl-related overdoses was San Francisco’s Navigation Center, an interim housing site that offered shelter, meals, and essential services, with the hope that it would encourage users to get clean.

However, after being open for 10 months, it closed its doors when officials found only 1% of visitors were seeking substance treatment.

Ciccarone and other experts are arguing that the fentanyl crisis requires more time and that including more healthcare and human services beyond substance treatment can be key.

Ciccarone shared that in his eyes, we are no longer in an epidemic but rather an “overdose crisis.”

“A crisis implies that we don’t quite know how to handle it. It’s a little bit out of control,” Ciccarone said. “So, it’s going to take courage, creativity, it’s going to take some bold thinking, some out-of-the-box thinking, to bend this curve downward.”

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