This Week Has Seen an Alarming Number Fentanyl-Related Overdoses in San Francisco’s Queer Community

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 52 overdose deaths were reported in November of this year — and 41 of those reportedly involved fentanyl.

The past three years have seen a troubling number of overdoses due to fentanyl in the San Francisco LGBTQIA+ community. Fentanyl is potent and deadly; it’s over 1,000 times more powerful than morphine. Over just the last four nights, friends of mine working in SF hospitals have informed me there have allegedly been at least 17 suspected fentanyl-related overdoses in local emergency rooms. Four of the alleged overdose victims died.

Many of these overdose patients were reportedly gay.

I worry about how safe our community is when they are obtaining recreational drugs. Drug users do not know what they are taking is perhaps laced with fentanyl and can be fatal. And since cocaine and fentanyl look alike, people aren’t always sure what they consume. 

These recent deaths are a huge wake-up call to everyone who uses drugs. Are we being targeted? Do you know your drug dealers? Our community is already at a higher risk of substance abuse than the general population. I don’t have the magic solution here, and I’m a recreational drug user, so I’m by no means pointing a finger. I’m merely saying that I care about you. 

In San Francisco, you can purchase Narcan at Walgreens and CVS pharmacies — but it’s expensive. However, the San Francisco Behavioral Health Services, located at 1380 Howard Street, offer free Naloxone from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Fentanyl test strips can identify the presence of fentanyl in unregulated drugs. Use them to test powders and pills. Being aware that fentanyl is present allows people to implement appropriate harm-reduction strategies to reduce the risk of an overdose. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation offers fentanyl testing strips that help you know whether fentanyl is present. These easy-to-use strips only tell you whether or not fentanyl is present, not how much is present.

I’ve shared this before, but it is so important: 

I reached out to Kochina Rude — a Bay Area-based drag queen, Harm Redux Advocate, vocalist, and emcee. She has been active in keeping our community safe from drug overdoses over the past few years, and I found out exactly what they are doing to keep our extended family secure. 

“Since last year, I’ve partnered with the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (D.O.P.E.) Project to give away free kits of Narcan to partygoers at Princess (a weekly party at Oasis) and provide a five-minute crash course on recognizing and reversing an overdose,” Rude told me over email. “I also offer fentanyl test strips for people to take home and test their drugs before using them. As a result, the city has started a program paying queer and trans people of color to educate and distribute Narcan among their peers, mostly in bars and clubs, modeled directly after my project.” 

Kochina said that they started doing this because, just like in the days of the AIDS crisis, “it has been queer people on the ground taking care of each other first to ensure our survival.”

“I want my community to be educated and prepared about the dangers of drug use without shaming them for using drugs, as drugs have always been a part of our culture,” Rude adds. “I started this entirely independently and am immensely proud that San Francisco Community Behavioral Health Services are using the program. The manager (Tracey Helton of Black Tar Heroin fame) told me it’s ‘the most innovative public health intervention I’ve seen in years.'”

Also: You can now access Narcan directly from Carla Gay at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge; Bionka Simone at Beaux; Nicki Jizz at Reparations; and Princess Panocha, who is everywhere and uses it to get into parties for free.

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