May 28, 2024 - News

SF tests real-time opioid addiction prescriptions

Photo of tents lining the sidewalk

Homeless encampments in San Francisco in September 2023. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A new pilot program aims to connect unhoused people with prescription medication to treat fentanyl addiction via telehealth at night.

Why it matters: Medications for opioid use disorder are highly effective and can lower the risk of death by 50%, studies have shown. Though they also increase the likelihood that a person will remain in treatment, fewer than half of retail pharmacies in San Francisco carry buprenorphine.

How it works: A street care team with the San Francisco Department of Public Health provides real-time telehealth sessions with a doctor who can prescribe buprenorphine or methadone daily from 7pm to 3am.

  • To ensure the prescription is filled and taken, the pilot program offers a place to sleep overnight when accommodations are available as well as medical and service support with a case worker.

State of play: In the first four weeks of the pilot in March, over 55 people started medication for opioid use disorder or entered residential treatment, officials said.

  • Telehealth visits were provided for 173 people and over 134 buprenorphine prescriptions issued, with 33% of those prescriptions filled.
  • The program is a partnership with several groups, including Code Tenderloin and the San Francisco Department for Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

What they're saying: Connecting people to this kind of medication is a key starting point for helping them on their path to recovery, health department director Grant Colfax said in a press release.

  • "Off the streets, participants have the time, space and resources to plan their next steps toward a healthier life."

The big picture: The presence of fentanyl in the illicit drug supply has driven an increase in drug overdoses in San Francisco since 2015.

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