Crime and Public Safety | California reports seizure of greater than 5 million fentanyl pills since January. Experts say more must be done

Governor Gavin Newsom announced this week that 5.8 million fentanyl-laced pills were seized across California by the state's Counterdrug Task Force in cooperation with local and federal law enforcement.

While the state government is pleased in regards to the steadily increasing variety of seizures of the synthetic opioid, experts assume that these seizures won’t have a major impact on the illegal drug market.

Over the past three years, the variety of fentanyl-laced pills seized nationwide has increased dramatically. In 2021, just one.5 million pills were seized statewide. That number increased nearly tenfold, to 10.3 million pills seized in 2022. That number also greater than doubled in 2023, to 22.2 million fentanyl-laced pills seized across the state.

“Illegal fentanyl has no place in our neighborhoods,” Newsom said in an announcement announcing the seizures. “California is tackling this problem head-on by holding drug traffickers accountable and increasing seizures, while expanding access to substance abuse treatment options and providing life-saving, affordable disease-reversing medications to Californians across the state.”

Brandon Hill, director of the Office of Strategic Communications on the California Department of Defense, said if this yr's pace is maintained, 18 million pills could possibly be collected by the tip of 2024, a “slight decrease” from last yr's total.

California plans to make use of Newsom's billion-dollar investment to combat the fentanyl and opioid crisis. According to the state Master Plan 2023$30 million has been invested to expand the California National Guard to recruit, train and integrate latest members and fund fentanyl seizures. Half of this money will likely be used over the following two years to determine and operate the Fentanyl Enforcement Program to combat manufacturing, distribution and trafficking.

But Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and addiction researcher at Stanford University, said while he applauds the work of law enforcement to get the drug off the streets, these large seizures should not difficult for dealers to exchange.

Humphreys said fentanyl was placed on the streets by dealers making the most of the low price of production, not necessarily because people desired to take it.

But because fentanyl is so low cost and simple to provide, drug enforcement measures which have been in place for years not apply, Humphreys said. If police seized a corresponding amount of heroin, the market can be hampered because producers would must wait for poppy plants to grow and supply the ingredients to make heroin. But drug traffickers who deal in fentanyl can quickly replenish their supplies after police seizures since the drug is entirely synthetic.

“We've never had such a powerful illegal drug on the market in this country,” Humphreys said. “The best thing we can do is damage control.”

Jerel Ezell, assistant professor of public health sciences and director of the Center for Cultural Humility at UC Berkeley, echoed Humphreys, saying the variety of pills seized nationwide doesn't mean much because there don't must be many pills available on the market to have devastating societal impacts.

Humphreys and Ezell each said that harsh punishment for people involved within the illegal drug trade won't completely solve the issue either. Jailing small-scale drug traffickers is “like playing whack-a-mole,” Ezell said, because the federal government can't necessarily catch every dealer on the market, and even in the event that they are caught, producers can hire someone to exchange them. But the penalties matter after they hit individuals with “unique skills,” Humphreys said, equivalent to an accountant who moves money backwards and forwards or a well-connected importer.

The state has allocated about $97 million to distribute overdose medications equivalent to naloxone in communities and public schools, to make fentanyl test strips more available, and to fund grants for education, testing, recovery and support services. California can be using $23 million to fund substance use disorder workforce grants and to coach non-mental health professionals on substance use disorder. The state can be conducting a $40.8 million awareness and education campaign to construct partnerships and create messaging and education tools for fogeys and educators.

However, Ezell said that while making Narcan, naloxone or fentanyl test strips more available and easier to make use of is a superb immediate solution, these measures don’t address the the reason why people start using drugs in the primary place. For this reason, he advocated for parallel measures to deal with economic stressors that will lead people to make use of drugs, equivalent to regulating sanitation problems and eliminating tax breaks for big corporations.

“Most people don't start using harder drugs unless they are forced to do so by social or economic pressure,” Ezell said. “And at the same time, we don't have policies in place to address these problems.”

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