Dealing with the fentanyl crisis

Last November the Centers for Disease Control reported over 100,000 overdose deaths in the United States, a new record.  This represented a 30% increase over the previous year, a number driven by fentanyl and related substances. 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, fentanyl is a deadly scourge.

Fentanyl is often found in counterfeit pills that look like legitimate medication -- one kilogram can contain 500,000 lethal doses. Since 2013, China has been a major source of fentanyl-related substances and the chemicals from which they are produced. The drugs are often manufactured in Mexico using Chinese components and smuggled across the Southwest border. Fentanyl seizures along the border increased by 89% from January 2019 through December 2020.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office reported 462 accidental overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl in 2020, compared to 152 in 2019. Of these, 13% were high school and college age students. All county regions have experienced an increase in fentanyl deaths, with the North Inland region experiencing the largest increase.

This session I am co-authoring legislation establishing an Anti-Fentanyl Abuse Task Force to collect data on fentanyl abuse in California. The Task Force will examine collaboration between government and nongovernmental organizations for protecting fentanyl victims, and will analyze existing state criminal statutes for their adequacy in addressing fentanyl abuse. Other legislation will require the Department of Public Health to create a pilot project to provide drugs like naloxone, an FDA approved drug that counteracts overdoses. Overdose response teams will also be created to combat this growing crisis in our local communities.

So far, due to opposition from the majority in Sacramento, efforts to increase penalties for fentanyl trafficking have failed. Even so, better treatment for victims as well as increased penalties for traffickers are absolute necessities. We must act now!