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Local leaders discuss fentanyl due to sharp increase of overdose deaths in the region

San Diego County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Steve Campman said the region saw a 2,300 percent increase since 2016.
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According to the DEA, two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and past usage.

Local leaders led a virtual forum Wednesday evening to warn San Diego County residents about the insidious nature of fentanyl as it ravaged the region in recent years. 

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond and District Attorney Summer Stephan led a virtual forum. Pannelists for the Zoom meeting included state and federal prosecutors, medical experts, and the chief medical examiner, among others. Supervisor Jim Desmond posted a recording of the meeting on YouTube

“This is an emergency and I’m going to be putting something forward declaring an emergency,” county Supervisor Jim Desmond said near the end of the event. “This is poison, it’s murder and it needs to be dealt with.”

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. According to San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, fentanyl is leading among the top ten causes of death for people 18 to 45 years old in 2021 by 40,000.

County supervisors have declared the week of June 2 – 10 as “Talk to Your Kids About Fentanyl Week” due to its severity. 

Opioids have killed over 100,000 people in the United States in a 12-year period ending April 21, exceeding gun and vehicle-related deaths combined. Fentanyl was the primary cause of 75,000 of those deaths.

San Diego County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Steve Campman said the region saw a 2,300 percent increase since 2016. Authorities believe that the number will continue to increase. 

“These are kids who are dying because they bought fake prescription drugs off of social media and mostly on their cell phones. Pills like Adderall, Xanax, and Percocet. Unfortunately, these pills can be laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl,” Desmond said.

Deputy District Attorney James Fontaine, chief of the office’s major narcotics division said that with an opioid overdose, the body becomes limp, and the person may appear to be in a deep sleep. As a respiratory depressant, those experiencing an opioid overdose have an exaggerated, rough snore as the body struggles to get oxygen. 

Fontaine said that overdose death investigators refer to that snore as “the death rattle”. 

Someone experiencing an opioid overdose may exhibit breathing that is slow, erratic, or non-existent. Their pupils in their eyes constrict to pinpoints, and their lips and fingertips may turn blue if pale-skinned or grey if dark-skinned. 

According to Stephan, San Diego has become the largest entry point for Fentanyl in the nation. Illicit fentanyl in San Diego is found in either a pill or a white powder. 

A recent DEA study found that of the counterfeit pills that contained fentanyl, four out of 10 contained a potentially fatal dose. 

“I want this to really hit home for all of you. If it wasn't prescribed to you by a doctor and doesn't come from a legitimate pharmacy, then the chances are incredibly high that what you are getting is counterfeit and that it contains a potentially fatal dose of fentanyl,” Fontaine said.