Fatal drug overdoses hit all-time high for San Francisco in 2023

San Francisco broke a somber record for the number of fatal drug overdoses in a year in 2023. But, there are some encouraging signs in the data the city released on Wednesday.

In all, the city tallied 806 overdose deaths over the course of the year. 

"It's been a tragic year for overdoses, because more people have died this year than any year before," said Dr. Grant Colfax from San Francisco's Department of Public Health.

While the city set that all-time high benchmark for deaths, as the year drew to a close the number of overdose deaths trended downward; 84 deaths in January, 88 in August. By December, that number dropped to 52 overdose deaths. 

On social media, Mayor London Breed noted the record number of deadly overdoses. In a series of posts, she said the city must continue to offer treatment programs, and that "we are also enforcing drug laws to shut down open-air drug markets."

The downward trend roughly coincides with the increased federal, state and local law enforcement crackdown in the city. City officials say it's too early to attribute the trend to increased enforcement.

One thing public health leaders are saying is that there needs to be adequate treatment programs for those battling addiction, available the moment they decide to seek help. "We call on our legislators to make greater investments to behavioral health care, both mental health and substance-use treatment," said Dr. Colfax.

County public health workers say they will continue to encourage those proven treatment options for users, especially those who have survived an overdose and are at a higher risk of a fatal overdose. "In 2024, DPH will continue to expand treatment access and implement programs to help people get into care and to help us understand and respond more effectively and more timely," said Dr. Hillary Kunins from San Francisco's Department of Public Health.

Peer addiction specialists say the key to reducing overdose deaths is having consistent and persistent care and wrap around services available to those who are struggling with addiction, so that the moment they decide they need help that help is available. 


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