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San Francisco officials confirm baby was exposed to fentanyl

San Francisco officials confirmed Thursday morning that a 10-month-old male was exposed to fentanyl Wednesday, but they have not yet confirmed the drug was the cause of the medical emergency, nor that the exposure happened at the park where emergency responders treated the child.

The fire department responded to a report of a pediatric patient in cardiac arrest at Moscone Park on Chestnut Street in the Marina District at 2:56 p.m., Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesperson for the fire department, wrote in a text to SFGATE. Medics performed life-saving measures and revived the patient who was transported to a local emergency room, Baxter added.

The San Francisco Police Department also responded to the scene and said the baby was in the care of a babysitter at the time of the incident.

“The cause of the medical emergency is still under investigation,” SFPD said in a statement. “Investigating officers searched the park area later that night looking for a potential source of exposure, but the search did not locate any evidence of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.”

The baby’s father, Ivan Matkovic, posted on Nextdoor that his son was playing in the park’s grassy area when he accidentally ingested fentanyl and “barely survived.”

Matkovic sent a redacted version of his child’s toxicology report to SFGATE, which appears to show the child was given Narcan after an accidental fentanyl overdose and respiratory arrest. The report says the child was administered both a blood and urine test. Narcan, or naloxone by its generic name, is a medicine used to reverse an opioid overdose and prevent death,

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department said custodial staff cleans up the children’s play areas and restrooms at Moscone Park at least three times a day. “No drugs were found in the park during a search following this incident,” the department said. The San Francisco Controller’s Office, which evaluates the condition of city parks every three months, rated Moscone a 95.69, which is 3 points higher than the citywide average of 92.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has become common on the streets of San Francisco in recent years. Fifty to 100 times stronger than morphine, it was developed for pharmaceutical use, mainly to treat cancer patients, but illicit fentanyl has become popular for recreational use.

“In San Francisco, fentanyl is typically sold as a powder (white or lavender) and may have a similar appearance to stimulants like cocaine, leading to unintentional use of fentanyl among people who are intending to use stimulants,” the SF Department of Public Health said.

In 2021, fentanyl was detected in the blood streams of 474 people who died of overdoses in the city, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. 

News of the exposure prompted strong reactions from San Francisco’s elected officials.

“While those details are being confirmed, one thing is for certain: our drug crisis is out of control and it’s affecting all corners of our city,” District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who has called for a tougher law enforcement response to drug crimes, wrote on Twitter. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that children can’t safely play in our parks because traces of fentanyl or drug paraphernalia are present. Hopefully this will serve as a wake up call to those who are content with our status quo response to this crisis.”

District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, an ideological ally of Stefani’s, wrote, “The status quo on our drug crisis is untenable.”

Hillary Ronen, who represents District 9, agreed with Stefani and Dorsey that the “incident should be a tipping point,” but had a different policy prescription.

“I don’t mean a criminal crackdown on people who are sick,” Ronen tweeted. “I mean a massive effort to house, feed, & give full mental health services to all those who are addicted. I mean destigmitizing by decriminalizing drug use so that we don’t make people who are sick feel even worse and make their life even more practically difficult.”


David Dreyfus