(CNS) – A public awareness campaign emphasizing the perils of fentanyl and actions that Riverside County residents can take to prevent their loved ones from being a fentanyl poisoning victim was unveiled Thursday.
“The goal is to bring all the disciplines together to share information,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said during the announcement in front of the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside. “The impact of this drug is felt in different parts of society … people in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s. Fentanyl is showing up in all sorts of drugs.”
The awareness campaign, dubbed “The Faces of Fentanyl,” is centered on a 30-second public service announcement produced by the county and set for distribution via social media and other channels.
The PSA underscores that the “tiniest amount of (fentanyl) can kill you.” It warns gravely that the synthetic opioid can be loaded into any drug — cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, prescription and non-prescription pills.
“You may think it can’t happen to you. But you are not the exception,” according to the PSA, which can be viewed at http://www.FacesOfFentanyl.net.
“Fentanyl is becoming rampant in our communities,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “Often the user doesn’t know he or she is consuming fentanyl. We have taken a hard line on (fentanyl homicide) prosecutions. Fentanyl dealers now know we will hold them accountable for every life they take.”
The first murder filing related to a fentanyl poisoning in Riverside County was in February 2021. Since then, more than 20 criminal complaints have been filed in connection with fentanyl-related deaths.
“We must continue to prosecute these cases. But the fentanyl crisis can’t be addressed by one department alone,” Hestrin said, lauding the inter- departmental coordination that gave rise to the Faces of Fentanyl campaign.
Sheriff Chad Bianco said it was none too soon, as the rate of fentanyl poisonings is soaring.
“There have been 338 confirmed deaths so far this year,” Bianco said. “We know that number is going to increase significantly, and we will far exceed last year’s.”
Just over 400 fentanyl poisoning fatalities were documented in 2021, a 200-fold increase from six years ago.
According to Bianco, the sheriff’s department has referred two dozen fentanyl-related homicide cases to either the District Attorney’s Office or the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution since February 2021.
The sheriff said almost 800,000 pills laced with fentanyl and nearly 400 pounds of the powdered variety have been seized this year.
“That’s enough to kill the entire population of California — twice,” Bianco said. “Don’t be naive: Fentanyl lives in every drug out there, and drugs don’t discriminate.”
Christina Rodriguez lost her first-born son, 27-year-old Ernie Gutierrez of Winchester, to fentanyl poisoning in August 2021. She acknowledged the former Marine suffered mental illness and was seeking any means to medicate, including using drugs bought off the street, to quell the psychological torment he was living daily.
“Fentanyl is murdering our kids at a record high,” Rodriguez said. “Fentanyl has no boundaries. It’s in our schools, in our jails, on our football fields and on the streets. It’s smuggled into our country and finding its way into all drugs.”
Fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, including in China, and according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, is smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by drug cartels. The substance is 80-100 times more potent than morphine. Ingestion of only two milligrams can be fatal.
Congressmen Ken Calvert, R-Corona, and Darrell Issa, R-Temecula, have called for the Biden administration to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, partly because of the fentanyl streaming into the country. In July, they announced a “Fentanyl Roundtable,” seeking bipartisan action to address the crisis.
According to U.S. Customs & Border Protection, a total of 4.45 million known illegal border crossings were documented in the last two fiscal years. What number might have involved drug smuggling wasn’t specified.
The Faces of Fentanyl campaign offers resources for those contending with drug addiction, or residents seeking help for loved ones battling substance abuse disorders that exposes them to dangerous drugs.
Information is available via http://www.FacesOfFentanyl.net, or the Riverside University Health System Behavioral Health Crisis Line, 888-724-7240.
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