Story at a glance

  • The powerful synthetic drug fentanyl is currently flooding the streets of San Francisco.
  • Experts suggest that a police seizure of more than 7 kilos of the powdered substance last week might merely be just a drop in the supply bucket.
  • "Fentanyl remains the primary chemical culprit in the record-shattering number of fatal overdoses plaguing our city," city police chief Bill Scott added in a Facebook post.

A wave of the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl currently flooding the streets of San Francisco has experts concluding that a police seizure of more than 7 kilos of the powdered substance last week might merely be just a drop in the supply bucket. 

Fentanyl overdoses killed 1,603 city residents in 2019. The Guardian reported that citywide overdose deaths have increased by more than 2,100 percent in a five-year span. 

Yet city police chief Bill Scott said last week’s operation seized "enough lethal overdoses to wipe out San Francisco’s population four times over."

"Fentanyl remains the primary chemical culprit in the record-shattering number of fatal overdoses plaguing our city," Scott added in the Facebook post


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The substance, which is relatively cheap to make and can be lethal in trace amounts, overlaps heavily with heroin and other powdered substances in areas of high fentanyl concentration, according to the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Daniel Ciccarone, a professor specializing in addiction medicine at the University of California, said in a paper published in June that the accelerating overdose deaths marks the “fourth wave” of the opioid epidemic. 

"Deaths due to fentanyl are rising more quickly in the west now than they are in the east," Ciccarone said.

Stanford University researcher Chelsea Shover added in a separate paper published in The Journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence that the epidemic is running along the same pathways as the east coast opioid epidemic several years back. 

"Given how fentanyl has so dramatically worsened the US overdose death rate while only being pervasive in part of the country, its national spread could make the epidemic significantly worse," the report stated. 

Although the pandemic might have worsened the city’s epidemic, David Panush, head of California Health Policy Strategies told The Guardian the fentanyl crisis long precedes the global virus outbreak.

"The pandemic probably made it worse, but you had these addiction trends that were skyrocketing and fentanyl is like pouring gasoline on the fire," Panush said.


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But even with major victories like last week’s 7-kilo bust, experts say the supply chain is likely unperturbed. Ciccarone said hearing of the busts gives him a "sense of dread," adding that he sees it as a sign that "the supply has gone up."

"We simply have not gotten to a proportional response to what amounts to an uncontrolled crisis," he added. "There still aren’t enough drug treatment slots in America."


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Published on Jun 14, 2021