Santa Clara County’s fentanyl problem is ‘a time bomb’ news

Fentanyl poisoning deaths accounted for a staggering 80% of all all-opioid deaths in Santa Clara County in 2021, 12 times the number of fentanyl-related deaths in 2018, according to data from the county’s Medical Examiner-Coroner.

So far in 2022, from January 1 to May 27, fentanyl-related deaths accounted for 78% of all coroner-identified opioid-related deaths, the The Medical Examiner-Coroner public dashboard.

The shocking rise in deaths from the powerful recreational narcotic has sparked a campaign by Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and the county’s Fentanyl Task Force to find ways to get life-saving drugs and fentanyl test strips available to schools to deliver. Bars, restaurants and partner agencies.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its use has become a nationwide epidemic, according to the CDC.

Other drugs are cut with the cheaper and stronger fentanyl and its analogs like acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil. These drugs share a chemical structure like fentanyl, but require specific toxicology testing and are not routinely detected. Some of these analogs are less potent, but some are more potent than fentanyl; Carfentanil can be thousands of times more potent than morphine, according to the CDC.

Accidental fentanyl overdoses in the county have reached every community and socioeconomic group. Men and women ages 12 to 70 have died from accidental drug overdoses in nearly every city in the county. Victims of fentanyl in the Northern County included residents of Los Altos, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. In April, a student at Los Altos High School, died of “potential fentanyl poisoning,” according to Mountain View Police; Fentanyl claimed the life of a 12-year-old San Jose girl in 2020.

A Stanford University student died in January 2020 of accidental fentanyl toxicity after taking counterfeit Percocet that contained fentanyl. Counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl were being smuggled into the United States from Mexico, the university warned the campus community later that same day.

The total number of opioid-related deaths in Santa Clara County has increased 2.5-fold since 2018, when 62 people died; in 2021, that number rose to 163. Fentanyl-related overdoses are responsible for the steep rise. The proportion of fentanyl-related deaths among all opioid-related deaths has quadrupled in four years. In 2018, only 11 of the 62 opioid-related deaths were due to fentanyl, or 18%. In 2021, fentanyl was responsible for 132 of the 163 deaths, or 81%, according to the coroner’s reports.

So far in 2022, 52 out of 67 opioid deaths were related to fentanyl; only 15 were caused by other opioids.

Alarmed by the rising numbers, Chavez filed a referral to the board of directors on June 28 on behalf of the fentanyl task force to direct county governments to identify possible sources of funding for Narcan and fentanyl test strips. Narcan is a prescription drug that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose in an emergency. Fentanyl test strips can detect the presence of the drug in pills, powders, and injectables.

If funded, Narcan and the test strips would be made available to any local school, bar, restaurant, or nonprofit and community organization that would like them on hand and could be distributed to anyone who would like them.

With the widespread availability of these life-saving products, the working group hopes to turn the tide on overdoses and deaths, Bruce Copley, director of the county department of alcohol and drug services, said during a June 27 news conference.

Ed Liang, a senior investigator on fentanyl at the Santa Clara County Attorney’s Office, said during the press conference that the spread of fentanyl with street drugs is “a time bomb.” But it is known that a large number of overdoses have been spared with Narcan.

“Ultimately, it’s about access and delivery,” as well as the educational and informational work that the county does in schools, he said.

According to county data, young adults ages 18 to 25 and middle-aged and older school-age children are the groups most affected by fentanyl. Because of the prevalence of overdoses in younger people, the county board of education is developing guidelines for narcan kits and fentanyl strips in schools, Chavez said. Stockpiling of Narcan and test strips is up to schools to decide and is not required, she added.

Some parents may feel that providing these tools would encourage drug use, Chavez acknowledged. But the reality is that people are taking illegal drugs and overdosing in increasing numbers, she said.

“While we’re waiting for an ambulance, we don’t want to lose a child. Timing is important,” Chavez said.

On June 28, regulators unanimously approved the referral, which directs district administrators to return on August 16 with their funding report.

District school principal Mary Ann Dewan praised the decision in a June 28 statement.

“We are pleased that the County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved funding for the increased purchase and distribution of Narcan and for the ongoing fentanyl prevention program. The rise in opioid use in our county is alarming,” she said.

“Knowing that resources will be available to save a life gives me hope. The Santa Clara County Office of Education will continue to work with both the fentanyl task force and schools across our county to ensure information, resources, and support are readily available,” she said.

The county has also started community and school education programs to raise awareness about fentanyl. In May, she launched a pilot program of talks with district leaders to take place in secondary schools to raise awareness. The school board issued a flyer with vignettes from parents of students who died from fentanyl and opioid overdoses.

This year, the District Attorney’s Office’s annual poster contest focused on the question “What is the face of fentanyl?”. and asked students to illustrate how the fentanyl overdose epidemic is affecting them and their community. The winners were awarded on July 18th.

Santa Clara County is not alone in dealing with the growing problem. San Mateo County Health said it’s also seeing a worrying rise in both fentanyl and overdose deaths.

In 2020, there were 118 overdose deaths in the county, an increase of more than 20% from 2019 when there were 98. Of the 118 overdoses, 81 cases tested positive for opioids; Of those, 63 of the cases tested positive for fentanyl, according to a 2020 San Mateo County Coroner report.

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