SAN FRANCISCO: Sees Increase In Drug-Related Hospitalizations
In a trend at odds with statistics from the rest of the country, San Francisco is seeing a resurgence of overdoses and drug-related deaths, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. A new report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network shows that "drug-related hospital visits leveled off in much of the country" in 1996 compared with 1995. In San Francisco and some other metropolitan areas, however, "heroin and methamphetamine ... and LSD are leaving emergency rooms swamped." Physicians also say San Francisco is seeing higher numbers of overdoses related to ecstasy and GHB, popular "rave" or "party" drugs.
San Francisco General Hospital is one of the hardest hit, because it tends to treat underinsured or uninsured patients. According to Dr. Karl Sporer, an emergency room physician at the hospital, he sees "three to four patients a day who've overdosed on heroin and two to four a day who come in strung out on methamphetamine." He said, "'It's the bane of our existence,' ... noting that someone dies from heroine every third day in San Francisco." According to nurses, there is usually an increase in hospitalizations "after the first and 15th of the month -- the days public assistance checks arrive." And then a few days after those overdoses, hospitals see an increase in "patients with skin infections related to 'popping,' or injecting the drug into the skin after overused veins wear out."
Why San Francisco?
According to San Francisco health department officials, the city has approximately 15,000 intravenous drug users, 3,000 of whom are under 30. According to the Irvine-based Public Statistics Institute, hospital admissions for heroin increased 66% in San Francisco between 1986 and 1995. However, "the large number of users may not be the only reason why San Francisco ranks among the top three U.S. cities for hospital visits related to drug addiction." Darryl Inaba, director of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics detox programs, said, "We have a city that believes addiction is not a crime, it's an illness. So people feel more comfortable going to a doctor or emergency room for help without fear of being arrested." In addition, heroin users are at risk "because of the varying purity of drugs shipped into San Francisco from Mexico, Asia, Africa and South America" (Irvine, 2/1).