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Taking action against the scourge of addiction and fentanyl

Source: San Bernardino Sun

Grief-stricken. Angry. Determined. Those words describe the group of bereaved families who stood outside the San Bernardino Police Department last Dec. 9.

All had lost a loved one to the same ruthless killer: drugs such as methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin or counterfeit prescription pills, all deliberately cut with the dangerously potent synthetic opiate, fentanyl. Those deliberately contaminated narcotics were then purchased and taken by victims ignorant of the menace they posed. In the crowd was retired San Bernardino police Sgt. Steve Filson. Almost a year earlier, he and his wife lost their 29-year-old daughter after she and her boyfriend took cocaine. Unbeknownst to them, it contained fentanyl. Sgt. Filson and the crowd argue these cases should be prosecuted as homicides.

Early in January 2018, another parent was confronted with fentanyl’s deadliness. Dr. Veronica Kelley, San Bernardino County director of behavioral health, learned her 25-year old daughter unintentionally had taken a counterfeit pill containing fentanyl. Dr. Kelley administered Narcan, and her daughter was rushed to a hospital and survived. Seeking treatment and insurance coverage has meant “going through a gazillion hoops,” Dr. Kelley said.

Fentanyl is a cheap synthetic drug 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and is responsible for more overdose deaths than any other illegal drug in the U.S. Deaths span geography, age, class and experience with illicit narcotics. Fatalities from this deadly substance are spiking at almost an exponential rate. According to one March news report, fentanyl-related deaths increased from 2017 to 2020 by more than 240% in Los Angeles County, 808% in Riverside County and 960% in San Bernardino County.

These deaths are especially tragic because victims are unknowingly taking a poison — “fenta” — often during their first experimentation with drugs. Too many cases have been reported of teens dying because they ingested what they thought was oxycodone or another anti-anxiety medication, unaware their purchase, while mimicking a legitimate pharmaceutical pill, contained a deadly substance.

San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon said, “In many cases, law enforcement has found that drug dealers often know the dangers they are presenting to others by supplying these types of illicit drugs, while the victim often does not fully understand the threat to their safety.”

We can only successfully face this surge of fatalities with an ongoing assault on many fronts. We must quickly take fentanyl off the streets and prosecute as murderers those dealers and drug makers who knowingly contaminate the drugs they peddle with fentanyl.

It is why I introduced AB 1373, a two-year bill, to ensure investigations to determine criminal liability for fentanyl. As Mr. Filson said at the rally in San Bernardino, “These are intentional poisonings.”

As important, perhaps more critical, is reducing the demand by making mental health and other services more easily available to those suffering from addiction. We must also continue bolstering efforts to increase awareness about the dangers of drug use among students and ensure schools and parents have access to the support services our kids need. Outreach to the homeless should include aid for those dealing with substance abuse and behavioral health services.