Fentanyl is a highly addictive and potentially lethal synthetic opioid and is the leading cause of overdose deaths in the nation.
According to city health officials, and within the past two weeks alone, 12 people who were recreationally using what they thought was cocaine suffered overdoses after it was later confirmed to have been laced with fentanyl. Three of those people were found dead on March 5 in an apartment in the city's Mission District.
While drug overdoses are on the rise in the U.S., overdoses from fentanyl in San Francisco have been increasing since 2015 -- each year rising exponentially. In 2021, a total of 474 people died in San Francisco due to overdoses linked to fentanyl, according to city data.
Fentanyl is typically sold as a white powder and looks similar to cocaine or methamphetamine. The similarities in appearance could lead to deadly consequences for people intending to use solely cocaine or meth, but who have little to no tolerance for fentanyl, health officials said.
SFDPH is urging caution for people who recreationally use illicit drugs and to be aware that they could unwillingly be at risk for fentanyl overdose.
Health officials are recommending that people using illicit drugs like cocaine or meth equip themselves with naloxone and learn how to use it. Naloxone is medication that can rapidly reverse the effect of an overdose and can be bought over-the-counter at drug stores, typically in the form of a nasal spray.
Additionally, recreational drug users are being advised to avoid using illicit substances alone or at the same time as others in a group setting; using small "tester" doses; and using fentanyl test strips that can identify the presence of fentanyl. Despite the latter recommendation, health officials said fentanyl test strips are not always accurate and should be used in conjunction with the additional safety measures.
For more information, visit https://sf.gov/information/overdose-prevention-resources.