When San Francisco police seized seven kilos of powder-filled baggies containing the deadly opioid fentanyl last week, the city’s police chief warned the bust contained “enough lethal overdoses to wipe out San Francisco’s population four times over”.
But drug addiction experts say the haul may represent just a tiny fraction of the massive volume of the powerful synthetic drug that is flooding California, after being mostly an east coast phenomenon for years.
The evidence is in the rapidly surging death rates. The number of deaths from fentanyl overdoses jumped by more than 2100% in California in five years, state figures show. Overdoses of synthetic opioids (mostly fentanyl) killed nearly 4,000 residents in the state last year, according to the most recent estimate from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In San Francisco, drug users are dying at a rate of nearly two a day, many on the streets of the city’s Tenderloin District. In San Diego, fentanyl is coursing through the homeless population, according to experts and recent media reports. Santa Clara county saw the number of fentanyl deaths more than double last year, KQED reported, with victims on average younger than in previous years.