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San Francisco suffers worst drug overdose death year on record

Nighttime street scene with people walking, a person in a wheelchair, and a dog outside an illuminated building.
U.N. Plaza has had the most overdoses in the city for five years straight. It is often referred to as the epicenter of San Francisco’s drug crisis. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

San Francisco lost a record number of lives to drug overdoses this year, breaking the city’s previous grim milestone for drug deaths set in 2020.

At least 752 people died of drug overdoses in just the first 11 months of this year, with 57 of those deaths coming in November, according to preliminary data released by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office Thursday. Updated figures released in January say 806 people died from overdoses in San Francisco—the final figure could still change as the city processes data.

The city still has one month of overdose death data left to collect for 2023.

In 2020, the previous record-setting year, 726 people died of drug overdoses in the city. Last year, 649 overdose deaths were recorded in San Francisco—that figure was surpassed in October this year, when the city recorded 692 overdose deaths, according to preliminary data.

In over 80% of overdose deaths this year, fentanyl was listed as a contributing factor in the cause of death, according to city data.

READ MORE: 24 Hours at San Francisco’s Worst Drug Corner: Why the City Struggles To Control Seventh and Market

A man sits at a desk with his hands folded.
Dr. Grant Colfax is the director of health for San Francisco, and his Department of Public Health is in charge of treating people who suffer from drug addiction. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

The city also listed two record-breaking months for overdose deaths: August and January, each suffering more drug deaths than any other month in the city’s history.

The preliminary data found 87 people died of overdoses in August; the number could change as the data is yet to be finalized. In January, 84 people died of overdoses, according to finalized data.

Approximately 68% of people who died of overdoses this year had a residence, according to the data from the medical examiner’s office. Of those people, about 21% lived in the Tenderloin, 19% lived in SoMa, 16% lived in Russian Hill and almost 6% lived in the Inner Mission. About 30% lived in other parts of the city, and nearly 9% had addresses outside of San Francisco.

A disproportionate number of Black people died of overdoses this year, accounting for 31% of total overdose deaths. Black people make up just 5.7% of the city’s total population, according to 2020 census data.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office can take months to certify an overdose death before releasing the official data.

David Sjostedt can be reached at