San Francisco man documents Tenderloin’s fentanyl crisis, tries to stop overdose deaths

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — This is the story of a San Francisco man who uses “compassion” instead of “criticism” and “caring” instead of “neglect” for those too addicted to take care of themselves.

JJ Smith interacts with everyone he meets.

“Hey Kiana!”

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Lyanne: “You know everyone.”

JJ Smith: “Yes.”

Lyanne: “Everyone knows you?”

YY: “Yes.”

Lyanne: “What do they think about you?”

YY: “You are just like me.”

“Inject Hope” | Watch a documentary about an innovative program to fight drug overdose and the fentanyl epidemic

And so began my journey with JJ Smith through the embattled Tenderloin, who was born and raised in San Francisco and lives in this neighborhood.

Lyanne: “What does it take for this epidemic, the fentanyl epidemic, to stop, go away?”

YY: “Treatment upon request.”

Lyanne: “But they don’t want treatment — a lot of them — you say in the video.”

In a video he posted on social mediahe tries to convince Noah to seek treatment.

YY: “Noah, you need help.”

Noah: “I know. I’m sorry.

YY: “If it gets worse, let’s do something about it.”

Lyanne: “Do you think they should be forced into treatment?”

YY: “No, no one should be forced to take medication, but you don’t give up on a person just because they refuse. You ask them the next day and the next day.”

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For JJ Smith, these “next days” often turn into weeks and months. He posts many of his interactions with drug users on social media to show others that compassion can bring understanding.

In another video, he tries to help a 20-year-old named Josh who is addicted to fentanyl and in pain.

YY: “What’s wrong? Your arm?”

Josh: “Yes.”

YY: “Which? This?”

Josh: “Yes.”

YY: “Do you have to go to the hospital?”

Josh: “Yes.”

YY: ” Come on let us go.”

He later told us why Josh was in pain.

“He had an abscess, an infection on the side of his arm,” JJ explained

Smith keeps tabs on many of them as if they were his own children.

Success stories are few and far between.

VIDEO: Here’s what it takes to survive in SF’s Tenderloin District

He wrote about Ethan, a 23-year-old from Kentucky who now lives in an animal shelter.

YY: “How’s the shelter for you?”

ethane: “It’s okay, it’s a place to stay.”

“I’ve been working with him for quite some time. I put him in a shelter, but pretty soon he’ll be moving out of the shelter and into a program,” JJ said

He assures me most aren’t from San Francisco.

“Well, some of them came here during the pandemic because they knew there was free access to drugs here and San Francisco has a lot of support,” he added.

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Then there are those like 19-year-old Noah who were lost to fentanyl for a while. He posted the time he sat Noah down to clean his face while he nodded off.

Holding back tears, he finds it difficult to talk about Noah.

“Oh my god, yes, Noah. Noah is special to me because I’ve been working with Noah for so long. No kid who is 19 should be as addicted to drugs as he is,” he explains.

Lyanne: “So their approach here is a man-to-man approach. Is that practical? can i do this Can other people do it? Could the supervisor for that district and his staff do it? yes they can do it It’s easy. Why not?”

YY: “They feel like this is a safe zone. Let’s leave everything here as it is. They just don’t care.”

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