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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Guest blog: District Attorney Mike Hestrin talks about the fentanyl drug crisis

We are currently in a new and highly dangerous drug crisis involving the use of fentanyl. And it is killing people at an alarming rate.

 

Fentanyl is a synthetic, manmade opiate that can easily be produced in a lab or on the streets. Fentanyl is less expensive than other opiates and is highly addictive. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

 

Deadly amounts of fentanyl are being used in manufacturing and packaging of other drugs as well. Dealers are knowingly providing it to people with no regard for the value of life. Fentanyl is being added to counterfeit pills being misrepresented as Xanax and/or Oxycodone. Fentanyl is also mixed with other street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and even marijuana. When fentanyl is ingested with other illicit drugs, it increases the chances of killing the user.

 

Some drug users are actively seeking out fentanyl for the powerful high it provides, while others are taking fentanyl without even knowing it. However, in all circumstances, it is a case of Russian roulette. It only takes two milligrams (1/2500 of a teaspoon) to be a lethal dose. Drug dealers do not follow the regulations that pharmacies have to follow that ensure a nonlethal dose is used. This is resulting in record numbers of deaths due to fentanyl poisoning. In 2016, Riverside County had two fentanyl-related deaths and in 2020 we had 227. That is a startling 800 percent increase. The sad news is that we will have even more in 2021. We are only halfway through the year and there have already been more than 200 fentanyl-related deaths this year.

 

These are not just numbers, they are people. They are people from our community. They are people of all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. They are someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, or loved one. They may have taken a drug knowing it was fentanyl, or they may have believed it was another kind of drug and were unaware it also contained fentanyl. It could have been their first pill, or they could have been battling substance abuse for several years. No matter the reason, they had the same tragic ending -- losing their life and losing it too soon.

 

The dealers of fentanyl are aware that they are selling a deadly drug. Often, the dealer has seen their buyers die right in front of them and they continue to sell it. They sell drugs to our youth on social media and sometimes deliver them straight to their front door. A common question that is asked is, if these dealers know that it is deadly, why are they killing their customers? Unfortunately, there is no shortage of customers for these dealers. Remember, fentanyl is inexpensive and highly addictive. Simply stated, fentanyl dealers have no regard for human life. This is murder.

 

Our office recognizes that fentanyl is terrorizing our community. We are dedicated to combatting the fentanyl crisis with a three-pronged approach: education, prevention, and prosecution.

 

We have started a social media campaign to educate the general public about the dangers of fentanyl. We have posted three informative graphics and one video so far and we have more public outreach in the works to be published in the future. Additionally, our Crime Prevention Unit is creating prevention presentations about fentanyl that will be given in our local schools. We hope to collaborate our outreach efforts with our county, state, and federal partners to amplify the message and reach as many people as possible.

 

In addition to our public outreach efforts, our Bureau of Investigation has played a vital role in prevention and enforcement. In the last five months, our investigators have seized 5.6 pounds of fentanyl in Riverside County which is about 5.5 million lethal doses. To put that into perspective, Riverside County’s population is 2.5 million people. Our investigators have seized enough fentanyl to kill every person in Riverside County. Twice.

 

Our office is dedicated to taking a tough stance on prosecuting fentanyl drug dealers. On Feb. 22, 2021, our office filed a murder charge against a man accused of selling fentanyl-laced drugs to a victim who overdosed and died. In this case, it is alleged that the defendant was aware of the danger but continued to sell the drugs, known as M30 pills. As of December 2021, we have now filed eight cases charging nine defendants with murder in fentanyl-related deaths.

 

The bottom line is there is no safe way to use or to sell fentanyl. Simply put, it is deadly. Those who sell fentanyl should know that and, if they choose to sell it anyway and someone dies, the dealer should be prosecuted for murder.

 

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