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The Fentanyl Crisis in California: Understanding Its Rise and Impact

fentanyl crisis in california

Confronting the Fentanyl Crisis in California: Causes and Consequences

There is a serious fentanyl crisis in California, and throughout the world, that is killing thousands of Californians every year. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug that was developed as a strong synthetic pain killer for surgery recovery and serious chronic illnesses, but the drug is now being manufactured in illicit labs and sold to unsuspecting buyers in counterfeit pills, passing the strong drug off as heroin, Oxycodone, methamphetamine, and other substances that are commonly purchased on the street.

You cannot know by looking at your drugs whether they have fentanyl in them, nor can you smell or taste the drug. It can be in powder or liquid form and is often pressed into a pill shape. With the irregular dosages that people are given (as underground labs are unable to predict how much deadly substance is in their product accurately), just one hit or one pill can kill. It does not take much fentanyl to comprise a lethal amount of the drug.

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The Alarming Rise of Fentanyl-Related Deaths and Trends in California

As mentioned above, fentanyl-related deaths and trends are rising at an alarming rate, especially from the year 2019 to the present. More Californians die from fentanyl-related overdoses than they do from car accidents, especially males between the ages of 30 and 34 who are black and Native American with white males coming in third.

Analyzing Fentanyl Overdose Statistics in the State

fentanyl overdose statistics

This year, it was reported by the California State Department that the state has seen the rate of opioid-related deaths increase by 121%. From September 2021 to September 2022, 5,942 people died from synthetic opioid use, and approximately 1/3 of all emergency walk-ins in that timeframe were fentanyl-related emergencies For more Fentanyl overdose statistics see the state health department website.

Understanding Fentanyl’s Potency Compared to Other Opioids

Looking at fentanyl’s potency compared to other opioids makes it clear why so many individuals are overdosing. Fentanyl is about twice as strong as heroin, and approximately 50 times stronger than morphine. It only takes 2 milligrams to kill a person by overdose, but this number depends on their drug tolerance, their overall body size, and history of drug use. To put that into perspective, the amount of fentanyl that could kill you can fit on the tip of a pencil. The size is equivalent to a few grains of sand, in powder form.

The Role of Fentanyl in the Opioid Epidemic

The role of fentanyl in the opioid epidemic is huge because it takes so little of the drug to overdose, causing many more deaths than were once seen attributed to drug use. Along with being potent, fentanyl is inexpensive for illegal labs to produce, and it is highly addictive, which makes illicit drug manufacturers more likely to incorporate it into other substances to increase their profits.

Fentanyl Addiction: Recognizing the Signs and Seeking Treatment Options

Recognizing signs of fentanyl use in your loved ones, friends, and acquaintances is important, as you could be the one who ensures their safety, or even helps them to get treatment. Common signs of fentanyl addiction include:

  • Physical signs like drowsiness, weight loss or weight gain, hiding arms, pale skin, dry mouth, nausea/vomiting, confusion, sedation, small pupils, and periodic intense flu-like symptoms
  • Behavioral signs like attitude and personality changes, avoiding contact with loved ones, changing friends, losing interest in hobbies, decreased performance at school or work, secretive behavior, moodiness, irritability, giddiness, and nervousness
  • Environmental signs include having burnt spoons, syringes, small bags with powder, missing shoelaces or belts

A person with a fentanyl addiction will gain a higher tolerance to fentanyl as time goes on and may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when the use stops or decreases. They will think of the drug often, experiencing cravings, and will be unable to stop using it, even when they have a strong desire to do so.

Signs of a fentanyl overdose include:

  • Depressed breathing
  • Non-responsiveness (inability to wake up)
  • Blue lips or nails
  • Difficulty walking, talking, or staying awake
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Choking or snoring sounds

If you suspect a person has overdosed on opioid drugs, first call emergency services and request an ambulance. If Naloxone is available give the medication right away (they may need more than one dose) and try to keep them awake. Stay with the person and wait for the professional to arrive.

If you want to help your loved one find treatment options for fentanyl addiction, you can take steps including:

  • Bringing up their use in a non-judgmental way, when you are both sober and ready to talk. It is recommended to use “I” statements, like, “I noticed that…” or “When you use drugs, I feel…”
  • Researching treatment centers in your area that they may like, and helping them take the first steps toward recovery by figuring out the “how” like how they will pay for treatment, where they will go, and whether their insurance will help cover the costs
  • Talk to local organizations or doctors to find out more information about what types of treatment are available, and what else you can do to support your loved one
  • Staging an intervention if necessary, with or without a professional interventionist

Addressing the Consequences of Fentanyl Abuse in Communities

The California government has taken big steps to help communities in need during this health crisis, using fentanyl harm reduction strategies like giving out Narcan for free, training the public on what to do if they witness an overdose, and funding more prevention, treatment, and recovery services throughout the state, including youth training in schools. Medication-assisted treatment programs are becoming more available, and clinicians are being trained more thoroughly on fentanyl addiction and treatment.

The funding for these programs comes from the federal government, as well as settlements from numerous pharmaceutical companies, opioid manufacturers, and opioid advising companies, who have been charged with fueling the opioid crisis.

How Resurgence Behavioral Health is Responding to the Fentanyl Crisis

Resurgence Behavioral Health is a substance use disorder treatment facility that offers education on fentanyl addiction and treatment options that are customizable, safe, and effective, on an inpatient and/or outpatient level.

Fentanyl abuse and its consequences can cause long-lasting effects on your mental and physical well-being but within a comprehensive, personalized treatment program, you can take back control over your life, overcome the physical and psychological addiction to this drug, and start living life the way you want to, feeling stronger than ever.

Resurgence Behavioral Health not only helps patients quit using drugs, but we also provide full, long-lasting support that goes far beyond your 30 to 90 days spent in rehab. Through tailored programming that may include medical detox, medication-assisted treatment plans, education, health care, medication, group therapy, support, housing help, relapse prevention, 12-step programs, and more. We understand that each person is an individual with a unique history, and we truly want to get to know you and work alongside you so you can live your best life, drug-free and healthy.

If you are ready to take the first step and stop using fentanyl, or if you know somebody who may need help with a substance use disorder, please give us a call at (951) 708-7961. 

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Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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