The opioid crisis knows no bounds. It affects young and old, black and white, and rich and poor alike. Unfortunately, while susceptibility is universal, treatment is not. Many people are unable to see doctors or join treatment programs because they have no insurance and no money to pay for it. Some people can’t miss enough work to get help, while others can’t get help because they have no work. Some people don’t own cars and live in rural areas with no public transportation. Some are homeless. It’s the last group that health care workers in San Francisco, California are trying to connect with, by taking to the streets in an effort to find homeless people with opioid use disorders and offering them prescriptions for buprenorphine.
Buprenorphine is one of the three medications approved in the United States to treat opioid addiction. The average retail price for one prescription is $317.69, which is outside the realm of possibility even for some people with jobs. The city of San Francisco is spending $6 million on the program in the next two years. Most of this money will go toward hiring 10 new physicians for the city’s Street Medicine Team, which provides medical care for the homeless. Open drug use – drug use on the streets or in public areas, has gotten increasingly worse in San Francisco in recent years. People are injecting heroin in train stations and setting up tent villages on sidewalks and bike paths, and residents are concerned with the alarming number of discarded needles in the streets.
A series of YouTube videos recorded at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station at the Civic Center, located in the middle of San Francisco, were released in May 2018, showing dozens of drug users sprawled throughout the station, injecting as commuters walk by. Others were unconscious on the ground, surrounded by vomit. Not only do the commuters seem unconcerned, but not law enforcement officials or medical professionals were summoned.
Members of the Street Medicine Team will move around the city, offering buprenorphine prescriptions to opioid addicted homeless people. The homeless addicts can then fill the prescriptions the same day at a city-run pharmacy. At the end of a one-year pilot program, about 20 of the 95 participants were still taking buprenorphine under the supervision of the Street Medicine Team.
According to Dr. Barry Zevin, the medical director for Street Medicine and Shelter Health, the goal is to provide buprenorphine to 250 more people through the program. Unfortunately, that’s a very small fraction of the estimated 22,500 people in San Francisco who are actively injecting drugs. Still, Dr. Zevin says, it’s a start. Most homeless people aren’t going to make appointments or come into a medical center.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.