San Francisco began rolling out its newly formed Street Overdose Response Team this week to address non-fatal overdoses through a holistic approach, city officials said.
The new team, also known as SORT, will respond to overdose calls and provide an immediate response from San Francisco Fire Department paramedics, followed by services provided by San Francisco Department of Public Health specialists.
Services provided by SFDPH include the dispensing of buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction; rescue kits that contain opioid-blocker Naloxone; educational materials; and help getting into substance use treatment. The team aims to provide patients with immediate care and support within 72 hours of an overdose.
“We know that overdose deaths are preventable and every person who dies is someone’s son, daughter, friend, or neighbor. It is urgent that we save lives by doing what we know will work best,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “The Street Overdose Response Team is focused on helping people who are most at risk get the help they need to start their recovery. SORT is part of a package of new and expanded investments we are making this year to flatten the curve of the drug overdose epidemic and even lower the numbers of these tragic deaths.”
“We know that overdose deaths are preventable and every person who dies is someone’s son, daughter, friend, or neighbor. It is urgent that we save lives by doing what we know will work best.”Mayor London Breed
“People who survive an overdose are at heightened risk for a subsequent overdose, including a fatal overdose,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, SFDPH director. “With the Street Overdose Response Team, we can take a targeted and coordinated approach to reach people who need help the most and provide tailored information and care to save lives.”
Although SORT launched this week, city officials are planning to ramp up efforts in the fall, providing regular care and case management services for people who have survived an overdose and are experiencing homelessness, including primary care, mental health services and referrals to other treatment programs.
For now, SORT will operate 12 hours a day, but by early 2022, SORT plans on operating on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis. Within the first year, SORT is aiming to reach some 700 people at risk of overdosing, city officials said.
“Every day, our paramedics, EMTs and firefighters respond to dozens of overdose incidents, some of which end in tragedy despite our best efforts,” Chief Jeanine Nicholson said. “The Street Overdose Response Team builds on the city’s expanding efforts to actively engage our most vulnerable populations. Our Community Paramedics are impactful, street-level providers who will bring coordinated care directly to those in need.”
The creation of SORT, as well as other recently announced street teams like the Street Wellness Response Team and the Street Crisis Response Team, is in direct response to the rise in overdose deaths.
Last year, the city saw 699 overdose deaths — a historic high — with synthetic opioids like fentanyl playing a major role.