“We’re not trying to scare you.” In California, fentanyl now causes 1 in 5 youth deaths – Chico Enterprise-Record
Jan Blom knew little about fentanyl when his 17-year-old son Linus went to take a nap at their Los Gatos home in July 2020.
By mid-morning, Blom discovered Linus’ lifeless body in bed. The cause of death? A Percocet pill associated with the powerful synthetic opioid that has fueled an unprecedented rise in drug-related deaths across California, and is now targeting its young people. Fentanyl was responsible for a fifth of deaths in the 15-24 age group last year, with a total more than six times the number of deaths it had killed just three years earlier .
For most of his life, Linus was a brilliant student and an avid high school wrestler who aspired to compete for the national team in his native Finland. But he started taking pills he found online, according to his father, as a way to deal with the intense pressure to do well in college in Silicon Valley.
Suddenly, Linus had become the victim of a drug 50 times stronger than heroin that exploded across the country over the past half-decade, but largely spared the West Coast on its initial rise.
“It’s hard to realize that your own son has become a data point,” Blom said.
Fentanyl overdoses are wreaking havoc not only in tragically familiar places like San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, but also in teenage bedrooms in some of the Bay Area’s most upscale neighborhoods. Increasingly, users have no idea that the drugs they use contain fentanyl.
As a precaution, schools are stocking up on drugs that reverse the effects of overdoses, and experts recommend teens buy illicit painkillers and study drugs also buy test strips that detect if pills are mixed with fentanyl.
“We’re not trying to scare you,” said Chelsea Shover, assistant professor of epidemiology and health services research at UCLA, who co-authored a 2020 study on the spread of fentanyl on the Western coast. “But we’re trying to tell you what’s happening now, and it’s different from what was happening a few years ago.”
The plague of California’s dramatic fentanyl rise appears in 2020 as a startling spike in the state’s death records alongside another now familiar entry: COVID-19.
Fentanyl overdoses killed an estimated 4,000 people in California in 2020 – more than double the previous year – as trafficking routes from Mexico hardened and the unusually cheap drug began to enter local markets in Drugs.
And last year, for the first time, California’s death rate from all drug overdoses surpassed that of lung cancer and ranked just below hypertensive heart disease. The increase was due almost entirely to fentanyl. It killed a record 5,722 Californians in 2021, according to preliminary data from the California Department of Vital Statistics. That’s more than the estimated 4,258 people who died in car crashes on California roads and more than double the 2,548 killed in homicides.
For teens aged 15 to 19, the opioid-related death rate more than quadrupled from 2018 to 2021. For those aged 20 to 24, the rate increased nearly sevenfold. even as the overall rate of drug use among teens has remained stable, experts say.
But here’s what’s really telling: Before the fentanyl surge, the total number of annual deaths among Californians between the ages of 15 and 24 typically hovered around 3,000. Since 2020, that number has skyrocketed to nearly 4,000 deaths per year. And fentanyl has accounted for more than 750 of those deaths in each of the past two years.
“It’s going to continue until we actually respond,” Shover said. “The idea that a pill can kill, now it’s true…it changes what we have to say to children.”
Some counties have begun to take action as the fentanyl crisis worsens across the Bay Area.
Last month, Santa Clara County stocked up on Narcan, an over-the-counter nasal spray that can prevent a serious fentanyl overdose from turning into a death. The kits are being distributed to county schools and teachers are being trained in Narcan administration.
“We don’t want to have a situation where we have an unresponsive student…and we don’t have the tools to save that person’s life,” said Santa Clara County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dewan.
She said the students were taking study drugs like Adderall and common painkillers like Percocet, which they buy from unlicensed dealers on the internet. They have no idea that these pills are now often mixed with fentanyl.
“If you buy a pill on the street, yes, it’s probably fentanyl,” Shover said. “Fentanyl until proven otherwise.”
That’s why Shover and other experts recommend fentanyl test strips, which can be purchased on Amazon for less than $10 a kit, to detect if fentanyl is mixed with other types of drugs sold illegally. Sales of fentanyl test strips were only legalized in California last August when Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill drafted by Republican Assemblyman Laurie Davies from Orange County. Previously, test strips were classified as drug paraphernalia, and some states still ban them.
Teenagers are far from the only ones to suffer from the deadly toll of fentanyl. The opioid death rate among adults ages 30 to 34 hit an all-time high in California of about 33 per 100,000 in 2021, the highest of any age group.
Every county in the Bay Area is also seeing an increase in overdoses. San Francisco remains at ground zero with nearly double the opioid-related death rate of the next worst-hit county in the Bay Area — Sonoma.
In Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, the opioid-related death rate more than doubled from 2018 to 2021 as fentanyl entered the market. In Alameda, it more than tripled. At Le Marin, it has almost quintupled.
Edward Liang, who oversees the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Major Crimes and Drug Trafficking team, said Interstate 5 has become a fentanyl smuggling route for Mexican cartels carrying pills and fentanyl-containing raw materials across Mexico and down to the bay. Area.
The cartels used some of the raw materials smuggled across the border to produce fentanyl pills in the Bay Area.
Liang says the reason cartels are so interested in exploiting the fentanyl market is because the costs associated with producing fentanyl are low compared to other drugs like heroin, which require poppy plants and vast resources to produce. Since fentanyl is so much more potent than other drugs, dealers also earn more with smaller doses.
“They target school children and homeless people,” Blom said. “Everyone is a target.
The police are trying to catch up. This month, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that a fentanyl task force had seized more than 4 million pills and nearly 900 pounds of fentanyl powder since April 2021. And federal prosecutors in San Jose this were busted a drug ring, including a Mexican pharmacist, connected to the overdose death of a Monterey County man.
But the sale of fentanyl is happening even in the most heavily guarded places: inmates from Riverside County to Mendocino have overdosed on fentanyl-containing pills smuggled into prisons.
Most teens just have to search apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
In early 2020, the Bloms were sufficiently concerned about Linus’ drug use that they sent him abroad to an international school in Finland where they hoped he would break his habit of taking pills.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. Linus’ school has been completely online and his favorite sport, wrestling, has been banned as a precaution against COVID-19.
As a result, Linus continued to self-medicate, Blom said.
He eventually returned to live with his family in Los Gatos. They tried to get him outpatient treatment to treat his addiction. But everything, they were told, was complete. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced some clinics to temporarily close or reduce services, Blom said, creating a backlog of patients.
A clinic, which placed Linus on a waiting list, called months after his death to offer him a place.
After Linus’ death, Blom became active in pushing the county to take the threat of fentanyl more seriously. He joined the Santa Clara County Fentanyl Task Force and spoke about his son’s death.
He says he would be satisfied if all his activism stopped at just one death. Now he knows more than any parent about fentanyl.
“It’s so tragic,” Blom said, as Linus’ 6-year-old brother Lucas waved nearby. “We thought he was safe at home.”