San Francisco hits the streets to tackle opioids


San Francisco is taking a unique approach trying to treat people addicted to opioids with a first-in-the-nation program.

Mayor Mark Farrell announced Thursday that he has put $6 million into his proposed budget to fund 10 new clinicians for the Department of Public Health’s Street Medicine Team, which goes out on the streets to treat those suffering from heroin addiction by providing them with buprenorphine.

A pilot program began last year in November.

The medication, in either a pill form or a strip that dissolves, helps people reduce the cravings for opioids like heroin and can also help withdrawal symptoms, city health officials said.

The City has approximately 22,500 active people who inject drugs with half of the users reported using heroin.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay

Mayor Mark Farrell with city health officials announce a new plan to combat the opioid crisis in San Francisco, Calif., on May 17, 2018.

Farrell said at the Civic Center Navigation Center:

“Fighting this fight means we not only have to use existing programs, but if we’re going to really solve the issue and make a dent, we have to be creative.”

With the $6 million investment, Farrell said more than 250 patients will have access to buprenorphine:

“By providing this medicine outside of a traditional clinic setting, we are expanding our outreach capacity and taking every opportunity to help those individuals that are on our streets suffering from drug addiction.”

The street team can not only provide the medication but also make other health assessments and evaluations to connect people to other services.

Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said the traditional approach to wait for someone to get help does not always work, and that The City needs to try new approaches.

Dr. Barry Zevin, medical director of Street Medicine and Shelter Health, said:

“If we’re out there as a team we’re able to meet people where they are.”

Dr. Zevin and his team have helped many patients including Christopher Ruffino, who was a drug addict.

Ruffino, now a substance abuse counselor, briefly told his story about meeting with Dr. Zevin three and a half years ago and taking buprenorphine to help with his addiction:

“I owe my life to Dr. Zevin and to buprenorphine.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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