Deaths related to the opioid fentanyl tripled in California between 2016 and 2017, according to a new report.
“We’re really on high alert,” Rachael Kagan, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Health, told Soumya Karlamangla of the Los Angeles Times.
Fentanyl has historically been less present in California than other parts of the United States. Experts say that’s because most heroin sold in California is black tar heroin, which is harder to mix with fentanyl, while white powder heroin is more popular on the East Coast, the Times reported May 15.
Recently, the drug has started to show up in cocaine and meth sold in California. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and is often mixed into other street drugs to produce a more powerful high. Its presence in non-opioids has experts worried California may be headed toward a deadly crisis.
Three Hispanic men were recently found dead of drug overdoses in an apartment in downtown Los Angeles, the newspaper reported. The coroner’s report stated they had been doing what they believed was cocaine when they died. However, it is suspected that the men accidentally consumed fentanyl as well, according to Dr. Gary Tsai, medical director of the Los Angeles County Health Department’s substance abuse prevention and control division.
“Cocaine, while it can be life-threatening, generally doesn’t result in instantaneous overdose deaths like that,” Tsai said.
According to the Times article, recently several people have also died in San Francisco from ingesting fentanyl with methamphetamine, counterfeit Xanax and crack cocaine. Reports from elsewhere have found fentanyl in the rave drug MDMA.
In the last year alone, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made seizures of cocaine with fentanyl, methamphetamine with it or ketamine throughout Southern and Central California, according to Timothy Massino, a spokesman for the DEA in Los Angeles.
“This is a fairly new phenomenon in this area,” Massino told the Times.
Arron Barba, director of the Venice Family Clinic Common Ground in Los Angeles, provides drug users with test strips to check for fentanyl.
“There’s no quality control, and there’s no government to step in and say you can’t do that,” she told the Times. “People can’t tell what’s in the drugs they’re buying, and it’s clear fentanyl is increasingly part of the equation.”Tsai and other experts said that while fentanyl-contaminated street drugs are a real and growing threat, they’re not California’s most urgent public health issue.
But Maynor Garcia, whose brother was one of the three men that died in Los Angeles, told the Times he wished there were more public awareness about the risk in party drugs in the city.
“I’m not encouraging people to do cocaine, but people do,” he said, “and then those people that do it … need to understand that it could be lethal.”
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide.
–By Lloyd Payne