The mayor of San Diego announced statistics showing fentanyl’s dramatically increased death toll in California’s second-largest city over the past five years alone, promising an executive order to come by the end of the month to address the worsening flow of the drug across the souther border impacting homelessness and public safety.
Among the changes promised was a plan to pursue state legislation to enhance sentences when the dealing of fentanyl results in death. That, by design, will mean more fentanyl dealers can be prosecuted for murder, as the mayor says many of them prey on the vulnerable homeless population, getting people addicted to the opioid more than 50 times more powerful than heroin after they’ve already begun living on the streets.
“Fentanyl addiction makes people resistant to coming off the streets. And it makes them vulnerable to predatory dealers who traffic and abuse the addicts that they create,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said at a press conference on Thursday. “We will not make or accept excuses for letting this crisis continue to grow out of control. We’re going to own this, and we’re going to make sure we’re tackling this at every level, local, state and federal.”
“This month, I’ll be issuing an executive order to direct city staff to prioritize our response to this crisis, lending the city’s full support to the coordinated law enforcement effort that currently exists, as well as toward developing city policies and pursuing legislation that can further enhance this response,” the Democrat said.
In 2021, fentanyl overdoses killed 812 people across San Diego County, 385 in the city.
The number of countywide overdose deaths for the first six months of 2022 has already surpassed that amount, Gloria said, with 825 lives lost to fentanyl overdoses between January and June in San Diego County.
By comparison, the total annual number of deaths from fentanyl overdose in the county was 84 five years ago.
The fentanyl death toll is especially high among the homeless population: Last year, 113 homeless people died of fentanyl overdose, compared to just two homeless people who died of fentanyl five years ago, he said.
At the press conference, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan detailed how the current laws are inadequate to properly prosecute these fentanyl dealers. Under state law, the maximum sentence for someone who sells fentanyl is three years even if they killed someone. There are no enhancements in the state of California for the resulting damage. And she said the impact of the crisis expands past just the homeless population.
“We know of so many kids who are ordering this on Snapchat thinking that they’re getting Xanax, they’re getting Oxycontin, they’re getting Percocet – but instead their parents are finding them dead in their room,” Stephan said. “This is not a problem somewhere else. Twelve children between the ages of 13 and 17 died in 2021 from fentanyl overdoses. This is part of that 812 figure of overdose deaths of the young lives that were lost in San Diego County.”
Last year, legislation to make the punishment better fit the crime failed, according to the district attorney, but she noted how Gloria is advocating for changes that account for greater bodily injury – including fentanyl overdose that result in disability or death. Last year, the district attorney’s office was successful in bringing just seven homicide cases with convictions for fentanyl overdoses out of the total 506 defendants prosecuted for dealing fentanyl.
“It is fighting this as a homicide because this is what it is. Everybody knows fentanyl kills. That one pill can kill. But yet these dealers continue to sell it for profit,” Stephan said. “We’ve even had cases where the dealer knew that that very batch that they sold killed someone. And they were ready to sell it to the next undercover agent. So we knew for a fact that these people are operating with complete heartlessness.”