May was worst month on record for fentanyl overdoses in San Francisco despite crackdown

Homeless people in an encampment in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco
An encampment of homeless people in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco in February 2022.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
Share via

Despite a state crackdown to seize fentanyl and arrest its traffickers and dealers in San Francisco, May had the most fentanyl overdoses on record, according to city and county data.

The California Highway Patrol has seized more than eight pounds of fentanyl in the city’s Tenderloin district and surrounding areas since May, following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement of a task force with state and local authorities targeting traffickers and dealers.

For the record:

7:04 p.m. June 17, 2023An earlier version of this story and its headline mischaracterized the number of fentanyl overdoses in San Francisco as deaths from the synthethic opioid. It’s not known how many of the overdoses were fatal. May had the most fentanyl overdoses on record in the city, not necessarily the most deaths from the drug.

But despite the haul — which the governor’s office said is theoretically enough to kill the population of San Francisco three times over — the number of overdoses on the synthetic opioid last month was the highest it’s been since the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner began making month-by-month data available in 2020.


In May, when the state and local partnership began, 63 people overdosed on fentanyl, the data show. That was the most of any month since 60 overdosed on fentanyl in January 2020. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Through the end of May, 275 people have overdosed in San Francisco in 2023 from fentanyl, according to the data. There were 168 overdoses through the same period in 2022.

Still, Newsom announced the seizures by the CHP as a success in combating the opioid crisis.

“I’m proud of the CHP and CalGuard’s lifesaving efforts to shut down the Tenderloin’s poison pipeline and hold drug traffickers accountable,” Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, said in a statement Thursday. “These early results show promise and serve as a call to action: we must do more to clean up San Francisco’s streets, help those struggling with substance use, and eradicate fentanyl from our neighborhoods.”

But some local politicians said the law enforcement operation would not curb the deadly opioid epidemic.

San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston, whose district includes the Tenderloin, said that Newsom’s tactics represented a “reversion to the War on Drugs.”


“We need to stop repeating mistakes of the past and kidding ourselves thinking law enforcement alone is going to actually reduce overdose deaths,” Preston said.

The supervisor called for the creation of safe consumption sites, known as wellness hubs, which the city’s Department of Public Health suggested opening in 2022.

Preston also lamented the closure of the city’s Tenderloin Linkage Center, which was open for 11 months in 2022 and effectively operated as a safe consumption site.

On top of the fentanyl it seized, the CHP recovered more than 2 pounds of methamphetamine, 319 grams of cocaine and 31 grams of heroin.

The state agency made 92 felony and misdemeanor arrests.

Newsom stressed in April when he announced the crackdown that it would target dealers and traffickers, not people struggling with substance abuse.