SAN FRANCISCO—Mike Enright overdosed three times in December. A longtime heroin user, he said he didn’t know his limit after switching to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.
“It just hits you so much harder,” Mr. Enright said, sitting on the sidewalk not far from the tent where he sleeps.
Long a scourge on the East Coast, fentanyl is now driving a rapid increase in overdose deaths in the Western U.S.
In the Seattle area, overdose deaths involving fentanyl were up 57% in 2020 over the previous year, according to data from the county medical examiner. Preliminary data show deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl rose 162% in the Las Vegas area last year. In Los Angeles County, a recent report blamed fentanyl for a 26% jump in overdose deaths among the homeless population during the first seven months of 2020.
The problem is particularly acute in San Francisco, where a record 708 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, a 61% increase from the previous year. By comparison, 254 people died of Covid-19 in the city last year.