Brian Rinker

Newsom will vote on campaign donors’ projects


On the front page of the Chronicle Aug. 12, California Watch reported that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has been promoting the interests of campaign donors in San Diego and San Bernardino. It’s nothing criminal, but it looks bad – and it’s just the start.

Newsom, who sits on the state Lands Commission (one of the few critical duties of the Lite Guv) has received thousands of dollars in donations from interested parties looking to exploit San Francisco’s waterfront, public records show. And he will be voting on the future of their projects.

Newsom received $2,000 for his 2014 campaign from two lawyers, Neil Sekhri and Mary Murphy. Both attorneys are at the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, and are involved with the controversial 8 Washington project – which comes before the Lands Commission Aug. 14. Since part of the site of the most expensive condos in San Francisco history is state Tidelands Trust property, the state has to approve the deal. Newsom will be one of three members voting.

The future site for the Golden State Warriors arena is along the waterfront. The decision to turn over that land to private investors will come before Newsom’s panel, too – and Newsom has received more than $6,000 from interested parties.
The Strada Investment Group, which is representing the Warriors as a development consultant, gave Newsom $5,000, records on file with the Secretary of State show. Jesse Blout, real estate investor for the group contributed $750. Scott Stafford, principal, contributed $750. Marty Glide, chief executive officer of the Warriors, contributed $2,000 Newsom’s campaign.

Aaron Peskin, former supervisor and a foe of 8 Washington, issued a press release Aug. 13 calling on Newsom to recuse himself from voting on that project. Newsom’s office hasn’t responded to us, but it’s a safe bet that’s not going to happen. Newsom didn’t get where he is by stiffing campaign donors when they need him on a big vote.

There’s another  problem with the Lands Commission vote on 8 Washington. According to former City Attorney Louise Renne, the commission can’t vote on a project that doesn’t actually exist.

Her argument, laid out in an Aug. 7 letter to the commission, is simple: More than 31,000 San Francisco voters signed a petition demanding a vote on the project – and the Department of Elections has certified the referendum for a citywide vote. That can’t happen until November 2013. “Under these circumstances,” Renne wrote, “you do not have a currently valid 8 Washington Street/Seawall Lot 351 project before you for consideration. Approvals of the project are suspended by law.”

Does the commission even care if what it’s doing is legal? Anyone placing bets?

UPDATE: We just got a statement from Newsom’s chief of staff, Chris Garland, who told us that the Attorney General’s Office and the Lands Commission legal staff agreed that none of the panel members have a conflict of interest.  “The lieutenant governor has enjoyed the support of parties on both sides of this issue and is capable of looking at the item impartially and doing what is right for the state,” he said. “This isn’t a matter of contributions; it’s matter of calling balls and strikes on an important project.”

Okay then.

Hearing could work out flaws in Lee’s housing trust fund proposal


Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed Housing Trust Fund charter amendment — which he proposed during his inaugural address in January — will be up for review before the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee tomorrow (Wed/11) in the hopes of making its way onto the November ballot. The meeting is at 1:30pm in City Hall Room 263.

The measure, which would guarantee money for affordable housing for the next 30 years, was drafted primarily by the Council of Community Housing Organization (CCHO) and the Mayor’s Office, but included input from housing developers, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), and some supervisors.

Supporters intend the housing trust fund to provide a consistent stream of funding that guarantees $1.2 billion over a 30-year period for affordable housing. Each year the fund would take in between $20 million and $50 million. In addition to building new housing, it would create a $15 million homebuyers assistance program, doubling the current funds, and a $15 million home stabilization fund to help homeowners facing foreclosure. But Lee hasn’t convinced his business community allies to adequately fund the measure and there are doubts about its revenue projections.

Sup. John Avalos is cosponsoring the measure and helped draft some content, but he isn’t ready to vote for it yet. He is concerned with some of the big concessions the measure grants to market-rate developers, which could end up actually hurting existing affordable housing programs.

“I am watching closely,” Avalos said, “to make sure we don’t give too much away.”

Here are the three concessions: 1) High-rise residential developers would be allowed to pay inclusionary housing fees for affordable housing after construction instead up upfront. 2) Low to mid-rise developers would have the percentage of onsite affordable housing unit requirements lowered from 15 percent to 12 percent. 3) Developers of small five-to-nine-unit buildings would no longer have the inclusionary housing fee or the onsite affordable housing requirement.

The housing trust gets its funding by trying recapture the disbanded Redevelopment Agency’s bond repayments and hotel tax funds, but Fernando Marti of CCHO doesn’t believe that would capture nearly as much as Lee hopes. Marti estimates that the money would eventually lead to $13 million a year, which is a far cry from the previous $50 million needed.

Marti said the rest of the funding he hopes will come from the two competing business tax reform measures developed by Lee and Avalos, although Avalos has make clear that the $40 million his measure would raise is intended for the General Fund to maintain city services that have been cut in recent years. Lee’s measure would generate $13 million that he would earmark for the housing trust fund.

Marti said if the housing trust is approved by voters but the business tax reform fails, Lee has inserted language into the measure that would allow him to unilaterally abolish the housing trust fund. Marti said the CCHO doesn’t want the money for the housing trust to come out of the cash-strapped general fund.

Avalos is skeptical of Lee’s approach, telling us, “That doesn’t sound like anything I’d vote for.”

RCV repeal effort gets tricky with three alternatives


The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on July 10 whether to place a controversial charter amendment on November’s ballot that would largely repeal San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, but the outcome of that effort has become murky with the introduction of two competing alternatives.

The original charter amendment, sponsored by Sup. Mark Farrell, would eliminate RCV for all citywide elected officials, instead holding a primary in September and runoff in November. The board rejected an earlier effort by Farrell to repeal RCV, but Farrell came back with a modified measure that was co-sponsored by Sup. Christina Olague, much to the dismay of her progressive supporters, particularly Steven Hill, the father of RCV in San Francisco.

Hill said runoff elections in September, a month notorious for having low-voter turnout, will invariably favor the conservatives who always vote in high numbers. He said that RCV is a fairer representation of what voters want and a November election allows for more voters to be heard.

After widespread criticism from her progressive constituents, Olague publicly turned away from the measure, telling Hill and board members she would remove her name from it. Yet instead of removing her name, in a surprise move she proposed her own amendment to the charter, which only angered progressives more.

“Progressives are pretty furious with Christina right now because she is working with conservatives and went back on her word,” Hill said.

Olague’s proposal would eliminate RCV for only mayoral elections, with the primary still in September, even though she previously told the Guardian that she opposes having an election in September. Olague didn’t respond to email inquiries from the Guardian, but she has maintained in previous interviews that she is only trying to create a compromise between opposing parties on the board.

It’s unclear whether Farrell and the other center-right sponsors of his measure might back Olague’s alternative, but her colleagues who support RCV have put forward an alternative of their own. Board President David Chiu introduced another proposal amending Farrell’s measure that keeps RCV intact—more or less.

Although Chiu told the Guardian he thought the current RCV method has worked well for the city so far and that most people seem to understand how to use the system, he offered the amendment to address certain issues which have arisen because of Farrell’s measure and Olague’s amendment.

“My amendment addresses the concerns that have been raised in an appropriately tailored way,” Chiu told us.

Chiu’s proposal incorporates run-off elections for the top mayor candidates, but only after rank choice voting has narrowed the field to two candidates. It supports elections in November with the mayoral runoff in December.

However, this still allows for a second election, which RCV advocates think is a costly and unnecessary alternative that RCV was designed to eliminate – an imperative they see as more important than ever given court rulings that now allow unlimited spending by wealthy individuals and corporations to influence elections.

Although Hill isn’t happy with any repeal of the current voting methods, he said he reluctantly supports Chiu’s amendment.

“These are poorly made proposals,” Hill said. “It’s like being at the factory and watching sausage getting made.”

Hill fears that if Olague’s co-sponsorship of Farrell’s charter amendment or her own proposed amendment are approved by the board and allowed on the ballot in November that conservative money and power would most likely influence the election enough to pass the RCV repeal.

Leaked documents add to CPMC’s credibility problems


Three key members of the Board of Supervisors today presented what they say are documents leaked by a whistleblower within California Pacific Medical Center showing it will likely shut down St. Luke’s Hospital by invoking an escape clause in the development agreement that the Mayor’s Office negotiated and the board is now considering.

The CPMC internal financial documents sent to the supervisors Sunday from an anonymous whistleblower predict a financial scenario in which the operating revenue will fall below a 1 percent margin by 2018.  The predicted loss would allow CPMC to exit its 20-year commitment to St. Luke’s and close the hospital in 2020, just five years after its scheduled reopening.  Sups. David Chiu, Malia Cohen, and Christina Olague say they worry the financial shortfall would also limit CPMC’s charitable donations while its Sutter Health parent company cuts hundreds of hospital jobs to save a projected $70 million per year.

 CPMC has promised to seismically retrofit St. Luke’s and run it for 20 years. In return, the medical group gets to build a massive hospital on Cathedral Hill. Inserted into the deal is what Chiu calls the fine print, which states if CPMC operating margin falls below 1 percent for two years it may close the hospital. Chiu said CPMC presented the escape clause as a very unlikely event, occurring only in a catastrophic scenario.

Instead, the leaked documents present a negative operating margin as an incredibly probably situation that CPMC has known about for months and misrepresented to city officials. “CPMC knew it was possible and likely they would default on their commitment,” Cohen said, adding that her greatest grievance is CPMC’s refusal to do anything about the situation.

Cohen said the financial revelations aren’t surprising considering Sutter Health has a reputation for shady practices. She said we should all wonder how a supposedly not-for-profit corporation is able to make so much profit.

CPMC spokesman Sam Singer said the documents are fraudulent, flawed financial reports that CPMC threw away a long time ago. He suggested someone must have dug them out of the garbage in a conspiracy like fashion. Singer said the mayor had learned about the document a few weeks ago.

Chui said that may help explain why  the Mayor’s Office recently acknowledged it reentered negotiations with the CPMC after becoming concerned about the viability of St. Luke’s, telling supervisors it was based on CPMC’s revised revenue estimates, sparking a controversy during last week’s hearing.

Whatever the reason, the three supervisors want more time to investigate the matter.

“Let’s be clear,” said Cohen said, “these contract negotiations should be informed by actual financial information and not just by the word of CPMC leadership, which we’ve unfortunately found to be untrustworthy.”



Seeking local control


As a potentially troublesome court decision threatens the existence of cannabis dispensaries in cities throughout California, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera submitted an amicus brief last week urging the California Supreme Court to reverse the decision.

In October, the state Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Pack v. City of Long Beach that city ordinances regulating medical cannabis dispensaries are preempted by federal law. Local jurisdictions across the state have adopted discretionary rules for permitting cannabis dispensaries that vary by jurisdiction. The court decision throws out local ordinances, making it illegal for cities and counties to develop regulations.

“The Court of Appeal’s decision strips cities of an essential tool for protecting public health and welfare,” reads Herrera’s amicus brief, which is joined by Santa Cruz Counsel Dana McRae. An amicus brief is commonly filed in an appeal concerning broad public interest by parties not directly involved the court proceedings.

The ruling could have drastic consequences for cannabis dispensaries and the clients they serve. Most cities in the state, including San Francisco, rely on local ordinances to regulate the medical marijuana industry. Herrera says cities will be forced to choose between banning cannabis dispensaries altogether or allowing their operation without local controls, such as San Francisco’s extensive regulations on where and how dispensaries can operate.

In the absence of local regulations, he argues that ” dispensaries and cultivation sites have the potential to generate serious impacts on surrounding communities, including electrical fires, criminal activity, hazards to children’s safety, pollution, harm to wildlife, traffic, noise and odors.”

The appellate court ruled local ordinances go beyond Prop. 215, the California voter-approved decriminalization of medical marijuana, and cross into the realm of actually legalizing it, conflicts with the federal Controlled Substance Act.

In the wake of the court’s decision, the impact was felt immediately. Across the state, cities suspended all new permit activity.

Since the decision was sent to the state Supreme Court in January, where it is currently under review, San Francisco resumed its permitting process. Not all cities resumed. Herrera noted that as many as 12 jurisdictions continue to suspend or severely limit new cannabis dispensary permits, including Santa Cruz.

Rory Bartle, a lawyer at Pier 5 law offices and medical marijuana advocate, says that if the decision isn’t overturned, the entire industry could be upended. However, Bartle says the ruling isn’t widely supported, many counties have filed amicus briefs, and in his opinion the ruling will be overturned.

It is hard to imagine Ryan Pack and Anthony Gale, plaintiffs in the Pack v. City of Long Beach case and members of a cannabis collective that was shut down because of local ordinances, realized the implication of challenging such regulations. Long Beach required a $14,000 non-refundable application fee and annual $10,000 fee.

“Long Beach has some crazy regulations designed to pull as much money as they can out of the medical marijuana industry,” says Bartle. “It’s stupid and unfair.”

In San Francisco, the fees for an application permit are $8,656 and another $4,019 for a license and re-inspection.

Artificial turf project appealed as opponents decry use of kids as lobbyists


As opponents of a controversial plan to install artificial turf soccer fields in Golden Gate Park appealed the project’s approval to the Board of Supervisors – with a hearing set for July 10 – they criticized how a soccer coach inappropriately used children to lobby for the project and raised hopes that a new alternative plan would be supported by supervisors.

Responding to the recently approved plan threatening to pave over seven acres of natural grass playing fields in Golden Gate Park, the main organizing opposition, SF Ocean’s Edge, and its attorney, Richard Drury, submitted the 300-page appeal to the board on June 12. The appeal challenges the environmental impact report, citing many of its inadequacies, including the renovation’s aesthetic and environmental inconsistencies with that of the Golden Gate Master Plan and its failure to consider other possibly better alternatives.

The Beach Chalet Athletic Fields Renovation was approved by the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation on May 24 after a joint hearing that lasted more than six hours. During the hearing, opponents criticized many of the project’s features, but an especially outrageous concern came weeks afterward when a letter from an upset parent began circulating. In the letter, an angry father accuses a Vikings League soccer coach of using his unknowing son as a political pawn to support the renovation project.

“I was shocked and angered to learn that our eleven-year-old son was taken by his soccer coach, without our knowledge or consent, to attend the joint committee meeting in support of converting the Beach Chalet soccer fields to artificial turf.  He was one of the dozens of kids in team uniforms,” said the letter.

The parent said his son was picked up from school and was already dressed in uniform ready for practice but instead was taken to City Hall.

“It is really an outrage,” said Katherine Howard, SF Ocean’s Edge organizer, “to use children to further one’s own agenda instead of having an open and honest discussion.”

Renovation supporters argue that replacing the fields with artificial turf and bright lighting will allow children greater access and contribute to a growing need for more athletic fields throughout the City.

The letter accused the Vikings League of appointing itself speaker for San Francisco’s youth when not every parent or child agrees. And in this case, the boy was said to be in tears after the hearing.

“If my children were brought before a hearing for political purposes,” said Drury, “I would be livid.”

Drury and others maintained the park should be kept as a retreat from the pressures of urban life. Contained in the appeal is an alternative hybrid project that opponents are calling a “win-win solution.”

They propose renovating the playing fields at West Sunset Playgrounds with artificial turf and adequate lighting while keeping the Golden Gate Park fields natural with maintenance that includes adequate drainage and gopher control.

“It’s a very simple and very reasonable alternative,” Drury said, adding that the hybrid plan meets all the objectives of the city’s current proposal and wouldn’t increase the costs.

Although Parks and Recreation were uncooperative and refused to consider the hybrid plan, Drury and Howard feel optimistic about the appeal and think they will have better luck dealing with the Board of Supervisors.

Announcing the weed winners of this weekend’s High Times Cannabis Cup


While thousands took to the streets this weekend to celebrate SF Pride, over in the East Bay an event was taking place that celebrated a freedom of a different sort. 

The third annual Bay Area High Times Cannabis Cup brought together marijuana connoisseurs from across the state to Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion. Although the main event was the judging of some of the kindest buds in the country, the exposition also featured a variety of glass water pipes, portable vaporizers, ice-cold cannabis beverages and miscellaneous cannabis accessories. Outside in the parking lot, a chain-link fence surrounded the Prop 215 area where vendors offered card-carrying cannabis patients tastes of an assortment of potent edibles, dabs of concentrate, and tokes of some of the best medical cannabis strains of sativa and indica the state has to offer.

As the sun lowered over the harbor on Sunday night, a soft amber light shining through the many windows of the pavilion, people gathered around the stage for the start of the awards ceremony. High Times staffers announced awards for best product, booth, glass, concentrate, edibles, hybrid, sativa and indica. After a long afternoon of ingesting cannabis products galore, the winners wound their way up to the stage to accept their honors from Miss High Times Emily Aryn (more on her majesty here). San Jose Patients Group took home first place among indicas for its Cordero Kush Platinum. Playbud Delivery Service received first place for best sativa, an honor claimed by its Premium Jack Herer. 

During the ceremony, a special lifetime achievement award was given to Oaksterdam University founder, Richard Lee. Considered the father of Prop 19, his cannabis university and his dispensary were raided by federal agents last April. For an update on where Lee and Oaksterdam are at now, read our interview with Lee and new Oaksterdam head Dale Sky Jones here

[from the High Times website]


1st Place – Cordero Kush Platinum, San Jose Patients Group

2nd Place – Master Yoda Kush, Kush connection

3rd Place – Cherry Cola, Sonoma County Collective


1st Place – Premium Jack Herer, Playbud Delivery Service

2nd Place – Yogi Diesel, Elemental Wellness

3rd Place – XJ-13 Cracker Jack, Santa Cruz Mountain Natural


1st Place – Larry OG Kush, The Cali Connection Seed Company

2nd Place – Ken’s Phantom, Granddaddy Purple Collective

3rd Place – OG Sky, Buddy’s Cannabis


1st Place – MCU ATF Bubble, Hill Farms presents Master Control Unit

2nd Place – Lemon Remedy, Harborside Health Center of SJ

3rd Place – Harlequin, Buds and Roses Collective


1st Place – Hardcore OG Budder, Superior Extracts for West Coast Cures

2nd Place – OG Super Sexy Budder, LA Confidential Caregivers

3rd Place – Unfuckwitable OG Wax, Venice Medical Wax Centers


1st Place – Solvent-less BAMF Mix Hash, BAMF Extractions for Buds and Roses Collective


1st Place – Eleve Gourmet Veganic Medicated Truffles, Hills Farmacy

2nd Place – CannaChocolate 44/8mg THC/CBD, Tea House Collective

3rd Place – Spice Orange Drops, Greenway Compassionate Relief Inc.


1st Place – Mamma P’s

2nd Place – Elemental Wellness

3rd Place – Cali Connection


1st Place – Mama P’s Grinder

2nd Place – KO Nail from KO Domeless Nail

3rd Place – The Grinder Card from V-Syndicate


1st Place – Hitman Glass

2nd Place – Pulse Glass

3rd Place – Dopeass Glass

They call it gunpowder


At needle exchange sites around San Francisco, fliers are handed out to intravenous drug users warning them about a new and very potent form of heroin thought to be responsible for a dramatic increase in recent overdoses.

“Gunpowder heroin,” as it’s often called on the street, began infiltrating the city’s illegal drug market back around February, according to widespread reports from various needle exchange participants. Yet public officials appear to be in the dark about the epidemic, partly because budget cuts have created long backlogs for toxicology tests and partly due to indifference about the safety of drug users.

The reports were gathered by the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project from their network of needle exchange programs and analyzed by Project Manager Eliza Wheeler. She noticed the trend in April, and a flood of reports followed through May. It soon became clear that she was witnessing a potentially deadly spike in heroin-related overdoses.

“The whole city is reporting strong stuff,” Wheeler told us. “People are overdosing left and right.”

From January through May, 99 heroin-related overdoses were reported. The largest number of overdoses occurred in May with a staggering 40 reports. Wheeler says that an average month has 12 overdoses.

While those directly involved with San Francisco’s drug-using population seem to know all about the increase in overdoses, city and hospital officials seem to know nothing about it.

After checking with local police precincts in drug zones such as the Mission and Tenderloin, SFPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak told us officers haven’t come in contact with a strong batch of heroin and they are unfamiliar with the term “gunpowder heroin.”

According to Tenderloin Police Captain John Garrity, undercover and street officers only test controlled substances for positive or negative results. They do not test the drugs’ potency or chemical make-up. Garrity told us that the cops haven’t dealt much with opiate-related overdoses since the widespread availability of naxolone, an opiate overdose antidote commonly known by its brand name Narcan.

“We don’t see the overdoses anymore,” Garrity told us, “not for the last 20 years, not since Narcan came out.”

SF General, St. Mary’s, and St. Francis hospitals all say their emergency rooms haven’t seen an increase in heroin overdoses either and are also unfamiliar with the term “gunpowder heroin.”

It seems the city is content with letting nonprofit needle exchanges and programs like the DOPE Project deal with its opiate-using population. Although the DPH does fund and collaborate with many service providers, it rests the bulk of the responsibility on the drug users themselves.

While needle exchange programs combat blood borne diseases like hepatitis C and HIV, which can be contracted through sharing needles and other paraphernalia, DOPE attempts to educate users and prevent fatal opiate overdoses. The DOPE Project, funded through DPH, works with needle exchange programs to provide opiate users with a take home prescription of naloxone, which can be administered from a nasal spray or injected from a vial. At the exchange, if a returning drug user is re-supplying naxolone, he or she is asked “Did you lose it or use it?” If it was used, a report is made.

All the reports gathered by the DOPE Project are of overdose reversals, none of the reports are fatal, thanks to widespread availability of naxolone and the drug using population who use it. That doesn’t mean people haven’t died. In fact, a rash of fatal overdoses is rumored to have occurred. The suspected culprit: gunpowder heroin.

“There’s a new batch of heroin in town—people are dying,” says Johnny Lorenz, community activist and member of San Francisco Drug Users Union, a members-based organization advocating drug-friendly policies and giving a voice to drug users, who say they are often marginalized and seen as not caring about their community.

Lorenz, a former heroin addict, says a friend recently died from heroin-related causes. Whether it was gunpowder heroin that actually caused his death is unknown.

Wheeler and Lorenz say many people have died from the extra-strength heroin, yet no official records have turned up. The Medical Examiner’s Office hasn’t noticed an increase in heroin-related deaths, but Administrator Bill Ahern admits it was 90 days backlogged on toxicology reports.

The police and medical examiner’s lack of knowledge doesn’t surprise Mary Howe, executive director at Homeless Youth Alliance. She says heroin-related overdoses are indeed a real problem, and she personally knows heroin users who have recently died from overdose, but “unless you actually care about helping drug users you wouldn’t know.” And to receive a toxicology report from the medical examiner’s office takes a couple months, adds Howe.

Wheeler and others are currently waiting on toxicology reports to find out what exactly is in the heroin making it so strong. Without a toxicology report there is no way to be certain about the cause of death or the makeup of the drug.

According to SF Medical Examiner’s 2009-2010 annual report, nine out of the 141 people that died from narcotic analgesics related deaths were found with traces of heroin, down from previous years. However, finding out if heroin is the cause of death can be tricky. According to the report, the unique metabolite that identifies heroin, 6-monoacetamorphine, is very short lived and can metabolize in the body while the person is dying—leaving only traces of morphine or codeine.

Worse, a drug user buying heroin off the street will never know what exactly he or she is shooting.

“No one ever knows what’s in the heroin,” says Lorenz, adding that the label “gunpowder” has become a loose term for a stronger heroin. Lorenz, who spent the majority of his 20s doing heroin, remembers that gunpowder heroin at one time used to be a specific reference to a higher grade heroin from Columbia, off-white or grayish in color and crystal-like—resembling gunpowder.

Others say gunpowder heroin is black tar heroin mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Some disagree entirely and say the overdoses aren’t specific to any one type of heroin.

“Whatever people are calling it—it is strong,” says Wheeler adding that people rarely overdose from of a bad batch of heroin; they overdose from a good, strong batch. “In a world where the drug supplies are unregulated, this is what happens.”

If it is black tar heroin mixed with fentanyl, that could explain why hospitals aren’t reporting an increase in overdoses, says Jan Gurely, doctor at a local homeless clinic. She suggests that the people aren’t making it to the ER’s—they are only making it to the morgues.

“‘Gunpowder is very dangerous,” says Dr. Gurely. “It takes a phenomenal amount of antidote vials to reverse the overdose.”

Naxolone unbinds every molecule of heroin from receptors in the brain, reversing an overdose. The problem with naxolone is when too much is administered the overdose victim goes into withdrawal and comes to sick and vomiting. With a normal heroin overdose only half a vial is needed, but multiple vials are needed when dealing with gunpowder, she adds.

“A person could die on you with a vial in your hand,” Dr. Gurely said. “Most people don’t walk around with six or seven vials of Narcan.”

Pauli Gray believes the type of heroin causing a rash of overdoses and deaths is indeed heroin mixed with fentanyl. However, he doesn’t think it is a pure form of the prescription narcotic, but a homebrewed batch. Gray works for the Syringe Access Services program at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and also works directly with Eliza Wheeler and the DOPE Program.

“It’s called gunpowder and it’s all over the place,” Gray said, adding that heroin users are now actively seeking the extra-strength street drug. “When they hear dealers yelling ‘gunpowder’ they run and buy it,” he said. The street value has skyrocketed. Normally, a gram of heroin sells for $30, gunpowder is selling for $80 a bag, says Gray, and the bag can weigh as little as a quarter of a gram.

Gray says users have learned to shoot up very small amounts of the drug, although rumors of fatal overdoses are rampant. The other day he saw the drug for the first time. It smelled like vitamins and when cooked up it has small black flecks floating around, he says.

“People are selling it everywhere,” Gray said. “It’s really scary. We’re in overdrive.”