FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – A dramatic rise in fentanyl overdose deaths is prompting Fresno County to take action. On Friday, the District Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement and the Fresno branch of the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a new fentanyl awareness campaign.
The Fresno County Coroner’s Office reports in 2018 there were just two fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the county. In 2020, that number jumped to 40.
The county’s new messaging campaign includes billboards and posters, and also geofencing campaigns, which are targeted digital ads on social media. District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp says geofencing will be critical to reach young people in Fresno County on their phones, where most drug deals begin. The campaign is set to last for the next six months.
“They’re going to have weekly impressions that are going to pop up on social media, which is exactly the place it needs to be,” Smittcamp said at a news conference unveiling the campaign. “Honestly so many of them are finding availability to purchase these pills that are laced with fentanyl.”
Data from the Fresno County Coroner shows so far in 2021, 29 people have died from fentanyl overdoses, eight of those victims are 20 years old or younger, the youngest being 16. Law enforcement says the trend of fentanyl deaths among young people are a result of the substance being found in false prescription painkillers bought off the street. Because of fentanyl’s highly addictive nature, law enforcement says its become popular among illegal drug manufacturers.
“The trend now is to lace black-market prescription drugs with fentanyl with a buyer unknowingly ingesting this deadly substance,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.
Special Agent Benny Ortiz with the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Fresno says just one kilogram or about two pounds of fentanyl can be used to make 500,000 false prescription pills. He says fentanyl can also be used in other street drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine. Ortiz says fentanyl is on the rise in Northern California.
“71 kilograms of fentanyl have been seized in the region,” Ortiz said. “That’s more than double the amount of fentanyl seized in all of 2020.”
Ortiz says more often than not, drugs tested by the D.E.A. containing fentanyl contains enough to be fatal.
“One of every four pills contained a deadly amount, so a kilo of fentanyl has the capability of killing 100,000+ people.”