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‘Fentalife’ ad campaign against San Francisco opioid epidemic using sarcasm to prod action

<i></i><br/>The San Francisco 'Fentalife' ad campaign is using sarcasm to prod action to stop the opioid epidemic.

The San Francisco 'Fentalife' ad campaign is using sarcasm to prod action to stop the opioid epidemic.

By LAUREN TOMS

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    SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — The fentanyl crisis in San Francisco has made national headlines and a new ad campaign has people talking.

The idea — using sarcasm — is intended to shame the city into action.

The posters and billboards all come with the slogan “That’s Fentalife” with sayings like, “In San Francisco drug dealers have more rights than your kids.”

It’s a different kind of approach to a sobering subject. Fatal overdoses jumped 41% in the first three months of this year.

One of the installations is in a Tenderloin District alley often occupied by drug users and dealers alike. Walking down the alley it’s an unsettling yet familiar environment that Cedric Akbar knows all too well.

“I’m smelling urination. I was smelling defecation out here,” Akbar explained in an interview with CBS News Bay Area. “I smell liquor, you know, from the beer cans or from the liquor bottles. All of that is a combination that’s coming up off the ground, and people are sitting in the middle of it. And it’s almost like animalistic.”

Akbar is a recovering addict himself and spent years in and out of prison before turning his purpose to fighting the drug crisis that took so much from him.

Hot spots for drug use are where advocacy group TogetherSF has chosen to target as part of a provocative ad campaign bringing attention to the fentanyl crisis.

Walking down one alley with a Fentalife installation, it took just a few steps for Akbar to notice a common sight.

“Look at this,” he said, pointing to a burnt plastic object. “They’re using the beeper that they put on clothes from when you steal, and they’re using that to smoke out of.”

That’s Fentalife is written in a playful font surrounded by bright colors, evoking rainbow fentanyl. It’s demanding city leaders are held accountable in the fentanyl crisis.

“It’s really painful to be able to see and especially when people look like me are laying out here and I know that somebody’s mother or somebody’s father, somebody’s child that’s laying out here in the streets. It’s really painful to see that,” said Akbar.

He’s been clean for nearly 30 years and hopes more people on the streets of San Francisco will get to this point too.

“It made me think about I would never see my daughter again,” Akbar said about facing prison time. “I may not be able to even be able to live again all because of my meth addiction.”

But so far, he says, the fentanyl crisis has taken too much from the city with so few solutions.

He and his recovery group Positive Directions Equals Change partnered with Together SF, which has poured $300,000 into the Fentalife campaign with a potential $200,000 additional investment.

“This should be speaking to the whole city. I pray that the people on the streets be able to see that a change in mindset,” said Akbar. “But this is speaking to everybody who’s sitting back and not doing nothing and sitting on their hands.”

Although the installations are primarily in alleys where drug use is common, Together SF founder and CEO Kanishka Cheng says the campaign is directed at anyone frustrated with the crisis.

“Politicians react to public pressure, and that’s creating a citywide coalition that’s going to fill that public pressure to tell them we want action on this and we’re going to hold you accountable for results,” Cheng told CBS News.

But within just 24 hours, the same installation sits vandalized, even covering up the QR code meant for onlookers to send emails directly to city hall.

“Hold our supervisors, all our people in office, all of them accountable for this and they can’t do it alone. They can’t do it by themselves. I’m not putting all the onus of responsibility on them,” Akbar said. “This honestly the responsibility is on all of us. Because even at some point, we have allowed this to happen and we didn’t do anything about it. So now it’s time to do something about it.”

The campaign has already faced some criticism from the very city leaders it aims to grab attention from.

San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston on Twitter called out one poster saying “Don’t forget Narcan to the family shopping list.”

“When this billionaire-funded political PAC stoops so low as to mock distribution of life-saving Narcan in their billboards, it’s clear they aren’t serious about helping our City address the overdose crisis,” Preston tweeted. “Such a gross campaign, displaying a complete indifference to human life.”

But the campaign says it’s intended to be provocative and anger people to the point of action.

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