Last November the Centers for Disease Control reported over 100,000 overdose deaths in the United States, a new record. This represents 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 open Southwest border. Fentanyl seizures along the border increased by 89% from January 2019 through December 2020. Our local sheriffs and police are battling this crisis everyday. It not only affects drug addicts – it affects everyone. A innocent victim could be a college student who takes what looks like a legitimate Advil or valium from a friend that turns out to be a synthetic copy laced with fentanyl and never wakes up. It could be a police officer who engages with a overdose victim and trace powder makes it into the bloodstream. There are heroic stories of law enforcement having to self-deliver Narcan to prevent their own deaths out in the streets. This is serious and many of us have been fighting it for decades.
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.
In past years I have authored two bills to increase penalties for fentanyl sale and distribution. Both bills never got hearings from the majority Democrat legislature. There have also been numerous other similar Republican authored bills that also died. It’s time to change the makeup of our legislature in Sacramento if we care about our public safety. Plain and simple.
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!
Assemblymember Marie Waldron, R-Valley Center, represents the 75th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes the communities of Bonsall, Escondido, Fallbrook, Hidden Meadows, Pala, Palomar Mountain, Pauma Valley, Rainbow, San Marcos, Temecula, Valley Center and Vista.