San Francisco group demands more action on drug crisis in city

A San Francisco advocacy group is calling on city leaders to take action to address the drug sales and overdose crisis on city streets.

 More than 100 people came to a community meeting on Wednesday night to discuss possible solutions. 

TogetherSF Action says about two people die every day from a drug overdose in the city of San Francisco. The group says the city's response to the problem is disorganized and dysfunctional.

Group members want city leaders to explain to residents how they plan to help drug users seeking treatment for their addiction.

And they want law enforcement to do more to stop the open-air drug markets near civic center and other parts of the city.

"When COVID started, San Francisco went all-in," said Together SF Action Executive Director Kanishka Cheng. "Why can't we do the same thing with the drug epidemic that has already claimed more lives than COVID in the same period?"

The group points to the recent closure of the Tenderloin Linkage Center as proof of the city's failures.

The center promoted as a place for drug users to get help and get more information about how to treat their addictions. 

But in the year that it was open, only two percent of the hundreds of people who went there, sought help.

Intensifying the problem is the addition of fentanyl to just about any type of street drug.

TogetherSF Action says 73 percent of San Francisco's overdose deaths last year were linked to the deadly drug, which is 100 times stronger than morphine.

Supporters acknowledge it may be a political unpopular approach for some San Francisco supervisors, who've said criminalizing drug dealing and drug use would amount to a return to the failed "War on Drugs" policies of earlier generations.

"If we're going to say we don't want to have a robust law enforcement presence to arrest dealers, then what are we going to do to solve this problem, what's the alternative?" Cheng said. "Because we've been living that alternative and I think it's pretty bad."

Cheng said compelling addicts to get long-term treatment needs to be part of the solution, too. She believes the group has an ally in District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, in that regard.

"If somebody is struggling with addiction and commits a crime to feed their addiction - which is a very typical cycle - we can offer them the option: do you want to go to jail, or do you want to go to recovery treatment? And nine times out of ten, they'll choose recovery," Cheng said.

Mayor London Breed countered that San Francisco Public Health Department's Overdose Prevention Plan includes expanding access to the continuum of substance use services, doubling the distribution of naloxone in the next three years, increasing social support for people at risk of overdose.

In response, the San Francisco Health Department said that more than 4,500 people accessed substance use disorder treatment from in fiscal year 2021-2022.  

In addition, the health department opened 160 new residential care and treatment beds in 2022, adding to an existing 2,200 overnight beds, the agency said in a statement. 

Plus, the health department is adding adding 70 new residential step-down beds for people leaving residential substance use disorder treatment this year to support their ongoing recovery. 

The agency said anyone seeking treatment options can call the BHAC 24/7 hotline at 1-800-750-2727.