Fentanyl crisis

Overview:

The opioid epidemic reached staggering proportions last year driven by the unprecedented lethality of fentanyl

The opioid epidemic reached staggering proportions last year driven by the unprecedented lethality of fentanyl.

According to Gov. Newsom’s office, law enforcement efforts seized 28,765 pounds of the synthetic drug last year, enough to potentially kill the entire population of North America, twice.

The 594 percent increase in seizures had an estimated street value of more than $230 million and comes as overdoses are skyrocketing.

Overdose deaths due to the highly potent synthetic opioid were up 3,917% from just five years ago. Fentanyl is up to 50 times as potent as heroin and 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the CDC. This makes it attractive to illicit drug manufacturers because it allows them to use smaller amounts while achieving the same effects, making it more profitable and leading to a surge in counterfeit versions of other drugs actually containing fentanyl – which can be deadly in quantities as small as a few grains of sand.

Deaths were reported throughout the local region last year, including Santa Monica.

“The opioid crisis has touched every part of California, and our nation, this year. As we mourn the many lives lost, California is working harder than ever to fight this crisis and protect people from these dangerous drugs to ensure our communities are kept safe in the first place,” said Gov. Newsom. “California is cracking down on the fentanyl crisis – increasing seizures, making resources more available to Californians, and ensuring communities have what they need to combat the immeasurable harm opioids have caused our society, our communities, and our loved ones.”

Officials at every level of government have worked on addressing the crisis.

The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) made millions of dollars in grants available and DHCS announced it will bolster efforts to raise awareness of the life-saving drug Naloxone by working with colleges and universities across California.

Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation that will require opioid blocker nasal sprays — also commonly known as naloxone or by the brand name Narcan — to be kept in an area accessible to employees in gas stations, bars, libraries, and single room occupancy hotels (SROs), along with posters describing how to identify an overdose. Opioid blockers would only be required in counties experiencing an opioid crisis and would be dispersed through the mail, free of charge, by the California Department of Public Health.

“Stopping fentanyl from entering our communities must be a top priority for law enforcement,” said Assemblymember Haney. “But fentanyl is so cheap to make and so addictive that it’s spreading at a rate that will only get worse before it gets better. We have to aggressively go after the supply, but at the same time we have to immediately escalate our public health response to save lives.”

SMMUSD has long had Narcan at secondary school locations and recently discussed extending its supply to elementary schools.

Officials are also investing incredible amounts of cash in the problem. The Newsom administration has invested more than $1 Billion with CalHHS investing $450 Million in the current fiscal year.

The City of Los Angeles recently received its first $1.8 million payment as part of the blockbuster $26 billion national settlement with drug distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corporation and separately with manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson). LA City Attorney Mike Feuer filed the civil lawsuit in May 2018 against six opioid manufacturers and three distributors alleging fraudulent and negligent business practices that fueled the local and nationwide opioid crisis.

Additional payments amounting to $4.2 million are expected by February. Tens of millions of dollars will continue to flow into L.A. City over the next two decades to abate the opioid epidemic, including potentially to assist those struggling at the nexus of substance abuse and homelessness.

“Throughout the nation and across Los Angeles, the opioid crisis has shattered lives while powerful corporations watched the profits roll in. We filed our lawsuit to hold them accountable, change their conduct and obtain resources to contend with the impact of this epidemic on L.A.’s streets,” said Feuer. “This payment is just the beginning.”

As part of last year’s budget, Governor Newsom provided additional funding to increase the California National Guard’s capacity to combat the fentanyl crisis and support federal, state and local law enforcement counter-narcotic investigations and operations.

However, given the quantity of drugs flowing into the state, officials said more is needed.

“If fentanyl continues to be cheaper and more accessible than opioid blockers we’re going to keep seeing an increase in overdose deaths,” said Haney. “Until we can cut off the source of fentanyl, we have a responsibility to make sure the only effective first aid response is always there when it’s needed.”

editor@smdp.com

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...