The other pandemic

Tony Chase

by Tony Chase, Positive Directions Equals Change

We are dying left and right from it! It seems to be very contagious because more and more people are getting sucked into it! You’d better mask up around it and remember to put your gloves on so it doesn’t touch your skin. 

They still don’t know a lot about it, let alone how to stop it. But the one thing that we do know for sure is that it keeps on killing. We see the families of the fallen and it was not even known about before 2017. It stayed on the East Coast for the better part of 2017 and then, boom, it exploded in the homeless population and it was popping up right in time for those stimulus checks to be spent on it. And lo and behold – they have become addicted and have been dropping like flies as this death sentence is being carried out. 

Which battle to fight: the opioid epidemic or the coronavirus? It forced people on the front lines to pick which crisis to fight first. Both were fatal and to try to stop one led to a rise in the other. I know firsthand from working to help prevent either from afflicting those around us. 

Battling COVID was easy compared to fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin.

In San Francisco alone there were close to 700 overdose deaths with close to 400 from fentanyl in 2020, compared to 260 deaths associated with COVID-19 in the same time frame. So far in 2021, there have already been close to 150 overdose deaths due to fentanyl! 

Most of you reading this have not seen what a fentanyl overdose looks like. I have and it is not a pretty sight, plus it can be very traumatizing to witness. There is foaming at the mouth, fluid coming out of their bulging eyes and, depending on the skin pigmentation, lips and skin are ashen or blue. 

If we’re lucky, you may have some Narcan, and yes, when I say some, I mean four or five vials of it! That is because it takes that much to hopefully bring somebody back from a fentanyl overdose, along with chest compressions and rescue breathing, if you get to them in time. How many do you carry with you! One, maybe two? So, you tell me where the harm reduction is for that! 

COVID was easy compared to this because if you got vaccinated, you are pretty free from catching it. With this fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, there is a false sense of security for those who play Russian roulette with their lives. And I say that because those who think they are getting crack or meth or even weed on the streets have found out too late that it was laced with fentanyl, along with any pills that they may buy. Those unlucky ones don’t even know – that it’s a wrap.

Groups embedded in their communities like Positive Directions Equals Change, Code Tenderloin, Hospitality House, Mother Brown’s, Swords to Plowshares, Rafiki Coalition, Glide, Coalition on Homelessness and more local organizations need to be prioritized by the city in addressing support for people on the edge during these unprecedented trying times when homelessness, addiction and fentanyl overdoses are exploding. Why, in such a rich city, is COVID-19 finally at bay but the opioid epidemic more out of control than ever? – Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

I believe that a lot of those young dealers out on those corners don’t even know that they are selling death! That is so, so, so, so sad this day and age! It is so sad when you can go downtown and see more dealers than customers and those same customers openly using without fear of the police. 

As a matter of fact – and this was before the COVID pandemic took over the city – tour buses full of people from other faraway places were driving into the Tenderloin to show off the drug addicts and homeless tents. The looks on the faces of those passengers as they passed through left me feeling embarrassed for our people. 

There was a drug bust in SF that netted a couple of pounds of fentanyl, which was enough to kill everybody in the city a couple of times over!

Of course, the majority of the people on the buses were white, but most of the faces on the streets were people of color. So, when the city opens back up and the tour buses start to begin rolling once again with the tourists returning to this city, they will now see the results of the fentanyl-induced pandemic. 

There was a drug bust in SF that netted a couple of pounds of fentanyl, which was enough to kill everybody in the city a couple of times over! That to me is very scary because that isn’t even a drop in the bucket! 

So, what to do with this other pandemic? OK, OK, I’ll correct myself and call it an epidemic, because people are dropping like flies! How do we defeat this other epidemic? I can’t see using harm reduction as a winning way because you can’t become less dead. 

When you are hooked on that stuff, you have to detox first and then you need to have an abstinence only program to kick the drug and learn some new behaviors in changing your life. Harm reduction keeps perpetuating the situation, and when you look around, you’re still a dope fiend and still hooked, still stuck with the same epidemic, playing Russian roulette with one’s life once again. And the cycle continues. 

Why don’t you all ask us what is needed, since we are in the trenches almost every day? We know what is needed! “Oh, poor booby, here is some harm reduction for you” isn’t going to work for this pandemic or any other -demic. 

Monday through Friday of each week, Positive Directions hosts Zoom recovery meetings that are open to all. Please call at 415-401-0199 or email the team at recoverycorner@pd4life.org if you want some support!

Just like COVID-19, we had to meet it head on with vaccines and so what that would mean, is to incorporate some longer term “Abstinence Based Programs.” So, where have those programs gone? Do the math and take a look around, if you choose to open your eyes and see the reality that is in front of us. 

There is not nearly enough being done to create the answer in SF to help defeat this other pandemic. Right now, it seems like it is death do we part! If we want to defeat this other pandemic, we have to offer the opportunity that focuses on abstinence as a new lifestyle!

So, why can’t we do this? That is the million-dollar question! We have found a way to beat COVID-19 here in SF, so now let us do the same to beat this other killer pandemic! Yes, of course, epidemic!

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Positive Directions Equals Change, a community-based organization in the Bayview, offers classes and support groups each day of the week. 

If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at 415-401-0199 or email our team at recoverycorner@pd4life.org. All are welcome. ­­

Tony Chase is a founding member of Positive Directions Equals Change and director of the Embarcadero San Francisco Navigation Center.