The number of fentanyl-related deaths has risen by more than 1,000 percent during the past five years in Orange County, Calif., according to the local sheriff’s department.
Data released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) department showed 37 people were poisoned by the drug in 2016. There were 57 deaths in 2017, 134 deaths in 2018, and 165 deaths in 2019.
Fentanyl killed 432 people in 2020.
The drug, which is 100 times more potent than morphine, can be lethal at just 2 milligrams, depending on a person’s size and tolerance.
“One of the things with fentanyl is it’s cheaper to manufacture, so there’s been a shift from other illicit drugs to fentanyl,” OCSD Sgt. Todd Hylton told The Epoch Times. “The problem is, it’s also 50 times more potent than heroin.
“So because it’s cheaper and because it’s more potent, it has become more prevalent in the communities. But because it’s manufactured illicitly, not every fentanyl pill has the same amount,” Hylton said.
“These are made in clandestine manufacturing operations, so the potency isn’t consistent; where one pill may or may not have a lethal dose, another pill may.”
Another issue with fentanyl is that many times, a user might not even know they are taking the drug due to how it is manufactured.
While some users could go out looking to buy fentanyl, others buy different drugs off the street that have fentanyl mixed in, such as Xanax, OxyContin, and more. Drug traffickers mix in the fentanyl due to its low price and to add to the “high” of the original drug, which can easily become a lethal dose.
“These people that are making fentanyl, they’re stamping and creating pills that may look like an actual pharmaceutical, but it’s actually an illicit drug that has nothing to do with it,” Hylton said.
“And even then, let’s say that somebody gets two pills, one might contain a lethal dose and the other might not, and they don’t even realize that the pills are fentanyl, they might think they are Xanax or OxyContin or something.”
The OCSD is utilizing a “supply and demand” approach to combat the surge. For the supply side, the department has increased its enforcement by examining how the drug is trafficked into the county, and is increasing the amount of fentanyl being seized.
“Our seizures have been increasing throughout the years, as [fentanyl] has become more prevalent,” Hylton said.
“The number of pills and the actual pounds that we’ve seized has been good, and also trying to determine how individual people came about it.”
On the demand, the OCSD is deploying resources to educate people about how dangerously potent and deadly fentanyl is.
Despite the large gap between 2019 and 2020 fentanyl-related deaths, Hylton noted that it is not possible to determine if the increase is due in any way to the pandemic, which has resulted in an increase of drug and alcohol abuse due to economic shutdowns and quarantines.
While data has not yet been released for 2021, the department is seeing a downward trend in fentanyl poisonings, although exact figures weren’t immediately available.