FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2016, file photo, a number of syringes are scattered in the remains of a tent city being cleared by city workers along Division Street in San Francisco. San Francisco's mayor says he plans to send a medical team to city streets to distribute a drug that helps stop heroin cravings to homeless addicts. Distributing Suboxone on city streets, which Mayor Mark Farrell says will be the first program of its kind in the country, is the city's latest effort to address heroin addiction. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

San Francisco to distribute addiction drug directly to users

May 18, 2018 - 6:12 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco's mayor plans to put medical teams on the streets to distribute a drug that curbs heroin cravings in opioid addicts, an initiative he says will be the first in the country.

Mayor Mark Farrell announced Thursday he will allocate $6 million for 10 new public health clinicians to provide the opioid treatment medicine buprenorphine, known as Suboxone, directly to users.

Buprenorphine is a daily pill or dissolvable strip that reduces cravings and alleviates withdrawal symptoms. It also reduces risk of overdose.

Video and photos of people shooting up drugs in public have gone viral in recent weeks and added to San Francisco's reputation as being overrun by addicts and homeless people.

"The opioid crisis plaguing our country is alive and visible on the streets of San Francisco. The status quo is simply unacceptable," Farrell said.

The city has an estimated 22,500 injection drug users and half report using heroin. It already provides methadone treatment at clinics and buprenorphine for patients in its public health care system.

Supporters say the latest effort to address opioid addiction will help users who won't go to clinics.

"We need to meet people where they are and make it easier for them to get care," said Dr. Barry Zevin, medical director of Street Medicine and Shelter Health, which treats homeless people.

The Department of Public Health began testing the effectiveness of prescribing buprenorphine to homeless people in 2016 — and since then, nearly 60 percent of the approximately 200 people who began taking the drug are still working on being clean, officials told The San Francisco Chronicle.

"We have this situation where people can be afraid to come in for care because of the stigma and maybe even a fear of being arrested even though we don't arrest people in our clinics," said Director of Public Health Barbara Garcia.

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