San Diego fentanyl overdoses tripled amid COVID-19 lockdowns

Close to 8,000 pounds of fentanyl seized at US border so far in 2021

Drug cartels smuggling the deadly drug into the United States amid migrant surge. Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies with insight.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is warning residents about fatal fentanyl overdoses in the Southern California city.

Fentanyl-related overdoses tripled in 2020 amid COVID-19 lockdowns, with 461 deaths compared to 151 in 2019, according to the DA’s office.

“Parents are finding their children dead from fentanyl overdoses, boyfriends finding their girlfriends dead, and children are being put at risk by this alarming spike,” DA Summer Stephan said in a June 16 statement. “We’ve been sounding this alarm for years but the problem is only getting worse.”

The DA’s office has been working to promote an awareness and outreach campaign while also trying to step up effort stop prosecute “street dealers who know their product is suspect in an attempt to try and save lives,” Stephan said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be fatal even in small amounts, and other drugs including heroin and meth and marijuana can be laced with the dangerous opioid. 

“You never know what you’re taking if it’s not from a pharmacy,” Stephan said in her statement.

New data from the CDC reports fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are now the leading cause of overdose deaths in the US, having killed more than 21,000 people last year. (Credit: The Associated Press)

The district attorney’s office is part of a San Diego-based narcotics task force team that responds to five or six emergency phone calls per week, usually involving fentanyl-related overdoses. The DA’s office said these deaths are occurring all over the county and affecting all demographics.

“As first responders, law enforcement officers see firsthand the destruction of drug overdose and the devastation it causes to families,” Roxanna Kennedy, president of the San Diego County Police Chiefs’ and Sheriff’s Association, said in a statement. “People are dying every day. That’s why San Diego County law enforcement leaders are committed to bringing awareness to this issue.”

States across the country recorded spikes in fentanyl overdoses amid lockdowns last year, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have seized record amounts of the drug at the border in recent months.

Fentanyl drug seizures at the border have reached record highs in 2021, according to data from CBP, as the Biden administration faces a continuing crisis at the southern border with more than 180,000 migrant encounters in May alone.

Agency statistics show that 951 pounds of the deadly drug – which can be fatal in tiny amounts – were seized at the southern border in May. That is the highest amount seized since December 2020, and a slight increase over April, when 886 pounds were seized.

There have now been 7,450 pounds of fentanyl apprehended during fiscal year (FY) 2021, with four months still to go, dwarfing the 4,776 pounds apprehended in the entirety of FY 2020. CBP seizures of other drugs including marijuana, cocaine and heroin have generally decreased since 2018.

San Diego residents who need help for addiction can call San Diego County’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 or 2-1-1 San Diego for information and support.

Fox News’ Adam Shaw and Brie Stimson contributed to this report.

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