Law enforcement seized a staggering 28,765 pounds of fentanyl in California this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said Friday — enough to kill the entire population of North America twice.
California seizures of the deadly opioid have increased nearly six-fold in 2022, highlighting the drug’s alarming rise across the state as everyone from lawmakers to police departments to local schools step up efforts to fight it.
“The opioid crisis has touched every part of California and our nation this year,” Newsom said in a news release announcing the seizures, which were made by local and state law enforcement agencies with the support of the California National Guard.
“As we mourn the many lives lost, California is working harder than ever to combat this crisis and protect people from these dangerous drugs to ensure our communities are safe at all.”
Bay Area prosecutors say the nationwide surge in illicit fentanyl sales is also playing out locally. The Santa Clara County Attorney’s Office filed over 200 fentanyl-related cases from January through October 2022. That’s a significant increase from the 120 cases they filed last year, according to Edward Liang, who oversees the Santa Clara County Major Crimes and Drug Trafficking Team at the prosecutor’s office.
“When we talk about what the human toll means … it’s about making sure there aren’t any more empty seats at the family table during the holidays,” Liang told the Bay Area News Group on Friday.
Law enforcement officials say they are seizing fentanyl across the state, particularly in Los Angeles and San Diego, where the drugs are often smuggled in from Mexico.
Liang, who oversees the Santa Clara County Major Crimes and Drug Trafficking Team, says Interstate 5 has become a trafficking route for fentanyl into the Bay Area.
The potent synthetic opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin and is increasingly being mixed with a variety of illicit substances such as fake painkillers and stimulants that teenagers can easily buy online. Often people who overdose on fentanyl think they are using these less dangerous drugs.
As fentanyl sales continue to rise, the California Department of Health and Human Services is helping colleges and universities order the opioid-reversing nasal spray Narcan to comply with a new law requiring state universities and community colleges to maintain a supply of the life-saving drug. The bill’s author, Senator Melissa Hurtado of Bakersfield, hopes the mandate will save lives as California’s fentanyl crisis continues to worsen.
“What I hear from parents is that they’re scared… scared that their kid will go to school because they know they might have access to counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, which will cause an overdose,” he said Hurtado.
Fentanyl is also showing up on high school campuses. School officials at Overfelt and Oak Grove high schools in San Jose used Narcan to rescue students who overdosed on fentanyl in October.
On Thursday, Santa Clara County prosecutors charged a 23-year-old San Jose man nicknamed “Madman” with the felony of selling drugs to minors after he allegedly sold fentanyl-laced pills to students at Los Gatos High near campus . Authorities said they began their investigation when a teenage girl who was one of his clients overdosed in the bathroom during a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
Unlike public community colleges and state universities, high schools are not required to maintain a supply of Narcan. However, state legislatures have proposed a similar mandate as part of a series of new laws focused on the deadly drug.
A Bay Area News Group survey of more than 40 school districts in the area released Sunday found that 60% of responding districts have not yet trained their staff to recognize signs of fentanyl poisoning and do not have access to Narcan. A previous report by the news organization, released in October, found that one in five deaths among Californians ages 15 to 24 in 2021 were directly attributable to fentanyl, with a total of more than six times the number from just three years before.
“There’s still so much out there,” Liang said of fentanyl. “Everyone tries to do their part.”