Death by drug overdose & COVID cases both on the rise in SF

How can we respond to harm without punishment, even now during the COVID crisis?

Our frontline workers & grassroots experts have the answers! 


In San Francisco, COVID has exacerbated both the housing and poverty crises as well as the opioid epidemic. For the past several years, San Francisco has faced a serious problem with opioid overdose, as 1 in 6 cardiac arrest deaths in SF were fatal overdoses and fentanyl and heroin overdoses more than doubled in 2019. Now, Covid cases continue to rise as well, with the number of Bay Area cases tripling over the past 6 weeks. The isolation resulting from the requirements of social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus has led to an increased risk of fatal overdoseKristen Marshall, with the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (DOPE) Project at the Harm Reduction Coalition and one of our speakers for next week’s event, told the SF Chronicle: “We know people are more likely to pass away from an overdose, simply because they are alone,” as shelter-in-place and social distancing cuts people off from life-saving relationships, options and support.


Miss Ian (center), another one of our event speakers, preparing harm reduction supplies at SF Drug Users Union on Turk St with volunteer Michael Richardson (left) and Frances Fu (right; DOPE Project). Photo from SF Chronicle by Scott Strazzante



COVID has also exposed the reality of jailing and imprisonment being a public health crisis in and of itself, with 452% higher covid infection rates in the prisoner population than California overall. After San Francisco released hundreds of people from its jails earlier this Spring in an effort to stop the spread of COVID inside, the numbers of folks arrested and jailed in the city are increasing. With overdoses dramatically increasing and unemployment reaching historic highs, we can assume many of the arrests may be drug related. While the situation is dire for us all, our most vulnerable are the most affected.

Rather than responding to these compounded crises through imprisonment, policing, criminalization and stigmatization, our city must prioritize creative, resourceful and straight-forward problem-solving that upholds care and honors and protects human dignity. In San Francisco, it is our service providers, community organizations and frontline workers who have been showing us the way out of this crisis, using harm reduction and decriminalization approaches where they meet people where they are at and provide them with the resources they need to survive, no matter what. Check out what this looks like in this video below featuring  one of our Abolition in Action speakers, GLIDE’s Harm Reduction Case Manager Felanie Castro, as Felanie shows how GLIDE uses their community outreach van to disrupt isolation, stigmatization and marginalization by distributing resources like tents, meals, water, syringe access services, and smoking services even during shelter-in-place.

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Next Week: Abolition in Action #4–On Harm Reduction & Decriminalization!

Para información en español, haga clic aquí.

How can we care for each other and our communities without relying on prisons, policing and punishment? How can we define and create safety to support our most vulnerable and help each other meet all of our  needs for wellness? How can we strengthen existing harm-reduction and decriminalization work and continue to fight for abolition?

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Folks who do sex work, use drugs, or struggle with addiction are often our communities’ most vulnerable–regularly enduring police violence, the threat or reality of getting locked up, of premature death, and of continuous exploitation. While harm can and often does happen with these activities, these practices are methods of survival, as a source of income or for self-medication and coping. Rather than responding with understanding, care and support, the state upholds and perpetuates stigma, using the violence of policing, criminalization, jailing and punishment in part to respond to harm or potential harm and also to control capital within the sex and drug trades. Instead of punishment, we can respond to harm or its potential and whatever people feel they have to do in order to survive by helping folks minimize risks instead of punishing them for struggling to live. In this way, harm-reduction and decriminalization give us concrete tools and approaches  to take care of our folks who need it most and push for true safety for all of us. 

Care Not Cages: 

Harm Reduction, Decriminalizing Survival & Liberating SF

Thursday, August 27th, 5:30-7:30pm

Register before the event here! 

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Friday 8/14/20: Submit Public Comment to Defund Policing in SF

Since 2013, the No New SF Jail Coalition has been working to end criminalization and dismantle the sheriff’s power and control in SF. The vote to close 850 Bryant by November of this year was a big win, and now it’s time to move even more money to the life-affirming resources and infrastructure our communities actually need to create true safety, security, health, sustainability and collective well-being.

For years, the City of San Francisco has increased its spending and resources to policing. Now with more public pressure and calls to cut funds for policing and reallocate these resources to our communities, Mayor Breed has announced a few budget cuts, but they are simply not enough. The Mayor’s current budget and proposed cuts to the Sheriff Dept are very insignificant compared to proposed reductions to other city departments, many of which provide the programs and spaces our city needs to thrive: 5.7% compared to about 11.3% for the SF Public Library, 16% for the Dept of Children, Youth & Families, and 31% for Public Works. This follows a harmful trend in San Francisco leadership of prioritizing criminalization, policing and jailing at the expense of our communities. Last year for instance, the average total compensation for a Deputy Sheriff was $210,000 — the equivalent of more than 2 teachers in the city.

Furthermore, the proposed cuts for the Sheriff’s Department exploit the much-needed and already mandated closure of 850 Bryant, and these cuts don’t reflect the real change we need in our city’s budget. Through jailing and policing, the Sheriff’s Depart perpetuates anti-Blackness and white supremacy in SF and separates families, snatching our people away and caging our loved ones in jails where social distancing is impossible during a global health crisis.

The people are asking for fundamental, significant shifts in the way we view and protect our safety; the call to defund the police continues to grow and amplify. We need to show the legislators policing is not the answer.  We can’t reform the Sheriff’s Department or SFPD and get different results. The only way to stop police violence is to reduce the number of cages and cops in our city and county. Now is the time to make sure the money, resources and city-focus is moved toward our communities.

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