DEA and Riverside County elected leaders sounding the alarm on fentanyl

A top DEA official reports seven mass overdose events in the past two months resulting in 58 overdoses and 29 deaths.
TEMECULA, Calif. (KABC) -- The Drug Enforcement Administration is sounding the alarm on an increasing number of fentanyl deaths nationwide, including seven mass overdose events in the past two months resulting in 58 overdoses and 29 deaths.

What is extremely concerning to officials is that in most of those cases, the victims thought they were ingesting cocaine, but they were unknowingly ingesting fentanyl.

"These mass overdose events typically occur when drug dealers sell their product as 'cocaine,' when it actually contains fentanyl," said DEA administrator Anne Milgram in a letter obtained by ABC News.

"Fentanyl is driving the nationwide overdose epidemic: the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] estimates that in the 12-month period ending in October 2021, over 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses and over 66% of those deaths were related to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids."

The epidemic was the subject of a roundtable discussion hosted by Congressman Ken Calvert in Temecula Tuesday morning.

"According to the DEA last year, there were more fentanyl-related deaths than gun-related and auto-related deaths combined," said Calvert.

Calvert was joined by other elected leaders including Congressman Darrell Issa, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco and Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin.

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Two Jurupa Valley parents are facing murder charges after their 15-month-old son died from a fentanyl overdose, and the Riverside County district attorney hopes to get to the root of the problem.

"People are taking a counterfeit pill that they believe is something else," said Hestrin. "They shouldn't be taking it, but they still believe it's something else, and they're not waking up. That's not an overdose, it's a poisoning. Our people are being poisoned."

U.S. Border Patrol agent in charge Mark Dunbar spoke about the increasing numbers of fentanyl seizures his agents are seeing flowing across the U.S-Mexico border.

"We're seeing hard narcotics coming through the border, through the ports of entry in large doses, in semi-trucks, on peoples' person, in internal carries, in their body cavities," said Dunbar. "The amount of flow we're seeing hit the ports of entry is commensurate to the amount of people overdosing on it. The more it's coming across, it's equal to the amount of people suffering and dying."

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The elected leaders who spoke at the roundtable are not only urging other public officials across the state to take the fentanyl epidemic more seriously, but they're also warning parents about a new dangerous era in illegal drug use.

"The days of permissive use of drugs, the days of allowing, as a society, young people ... they're going to experiment with drugs, those days are over. We just don't know it yet," said Hestrin. "We're all going to come to that realization very soon, because fentanyl is in everything and our young people are dying."

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