Santa Clara Co. sees spike in fentanyl overdose deaths during pandemic

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County health leaders launched a new campaign to save lives from opioid deaths with a clear message: Expect Fentanyl.

The campaign is a response to a rise in fentanyl related drug overdose deaths in the South Bay.

The primary concern is fake pills and other narcotics laced with fentanyl, according to the medical examiner.

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

"Drug sellers are mixing it with a variety of substances, including the party drugs, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Individuals wouldn't be able to detect the fentanyl in the drugs with testing," said Bruce Copley, Director Alcohol & Drug Services, Behavioral Health Services Department, Santa Clara County.

The opioid epidemic first fueled by prescription drugs, then by heroin, and now by fentanyl, continues to be deadly in the Bay Area and across the country.

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The number of accidental opioid deaths has shot up during the pandemic.

"We have certified 49 fentanyl-related fatalities in Santa Clara County, and that number is only going to increase," said Michelle Jorden, MD, Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner.

The 49 recorded deaths as of July 31 are outpacing the 88 recorded deaths in 2020 and doubles the 27 fentanyl deaths in 2019.

The state health department reports "Synthetic Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths Increased at an Unpredictable Pace in 2020," as the pandemic forced people to socially isolate and fentanyl made its way to the streets.

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"The same ramp up we're seeing now in Santa Clara County is what the East Coast has been experienced for the last five to 10 years," said Copley.

"I've lost family and friends to overdose," said Braunz Courtney. "It's really sad."

Courtney is the executive director of the HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County.

HEPPAC hosted an event this week promoting overdose prevention education and Narcan (also referred to as Naloxone) distribution in Oakland.

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In 2020 Black residents in Alameda accounted for a disproportionate number of opioid-related deaths, according to state data.

In the East Bay, the message is the same as in the South Bay, expect fentanyl in drugs purchased off the street and arm yourself with Narcan, the one thing that can save a life from accidental overdose.

"Please get this in your hands. Have one in your car if you need to," said Courtney. "It's only going to work if you have it."

Copley and Courtney are both urging opioid drug users not to use alone.

If something goes wrong a partner can instead deploy Narcan on the overdosed person and call 911.

For additional resources visit Expectfentanyl.org.
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