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San Francisco Begins Wastewater Analysis for Fentanyl, Xylazine and Other High-Risk Substances

San Francisco Begins Wastewater Analysis for Fentanyl, Xylazine and Other High-Risk Substances

SFDPH Contact:
SFDPH Media Desk  

December 14, 2023


                            San Francisco Begins Wastewater Analysis for Fentanyl, Xylazine and Other High-Risk Substances
                     San Francisco is One of 70 Sites Tracking Wastewater for Some High-Risk Substances Under New Federal Program


SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), with the assistance of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), has begun wastewater testing for substances such as fentanyl to track trends and inform response activities.    
San Francisco is one of 70 communities in the United States participating in the first-of-its-kind initiative by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to gauge and measure the presence of substances associated with adverse health consequences, including overdose, through wastewater testing.   
“Like other major cities in the U.S., San Francisco is seeing record numbers of fentanyl-driven overdose deaths,” said Dr. Hillary Kunins, Director of Behavioral Health Services, SFDPH. “While SFDPH continues to aggressively expand access to treatment services, we need all the tools available to identify the presence of substances that may be used to halt and reverse this deadly epidemic. Data from wastewater testing will help provide information about the presence of risky substances in San Francisco and prompt more strategic interventions aimed at saving lives.”  
Earlier this month, at the request of SFDPH, SFPUC began sending wastewater samples from two major wastewater treatment plants to Biobot Analytics (Biobot), a Cambridge, Mass.-based scientific laboratory services company that received a federal contract for the NIDA Wastewater Surveillance Program. SFDPH is expected to receive initial results in January, and then every two weeks going forward. San Francisco’s participation comes at no cost to the City. Under the current contract, the program is scheduled to end late August 2024.  
 “As a global leader in wastewater epidemiology, Biobot is proud to be part of this groundbreaking NIDA program to help communities like San Francisco better respond to high-risk substance use and implement harm reduction initiatives,” said Biobot CEO and Cofounder Mariana Matus. “Wastewater data has become an incredibly powerful tool to better understand a broad range of community health threats by providing timely and actionable insights.”  
Biobot is testing San Francisco’s wastewater for fentanyl, methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine, and xylazine – and their metabolites – as well as naloxone, the antidote to an opioid overdose, and its metabolite.   
The data will give a broad picture of use within the community, but not at the individual level. The results cannot be traced to a specific neighborhood or household. Additionally, NIDA stipulates that the data can only be used for public health and academic purposes and can specifically not be used by law enforcement.   
“We’re pleased to partner with the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the research community to help them gain a clearer understanding of substance use in the City,” said Dennis Herrera, SFPUC General Manager. “Supporting public health is a critical part of our mission, and we're ready to do our part to help inform the City’s overdose prevention approach.”