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National lawmakers could crack down on fentanyl, a deadly opioid spreading across the Central Coast

In 2022, the Narcotics Unit
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office Annual Report 2022.
The SLO County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit seized 1.4 pounds of heroin, 7.9 pounds of methamphetamine, $20,000 in currency, 7 pounds of fentanyl and 34 firearms.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office seized over 10 pounds of fentanyl last year, according to an annual report.

Now, national lawmakers could take action against the synthetic opioid. Both the U.S. House and Senate passed the Disrupt Fentanyl Trafficking Act this week.

Pending President Joe Biden’s signature, the legislation will designate fentanyl as a national security threat.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a major contributor to overdose deaths, claiming the lives of about 150 people in the US daily, even in small doses.

The proposed bill directs US agencies to collaborate on a strategic plan, including partnerships with the Mexican military. The goal is to curtail drug smugglers and cartels responsible for bringing fentanyl into the country.

Locally, the SLO County Sheriff’s Department detected fentanyl in 50% of drug-related cases in the past two years. In 2021, there were 123 deaths linked to drugs, but in 2022, that number dropped to 44.

In Santa Barbara County, fentanyl caused 95% of overdose deaths in 2022.

A 2020 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report indicates the increasing complexity of fentanyl trafficking.

While Mexico and China remain primary source countries for fentanyl, new sources are emerging.

After the Chinese government imposed restrictions on precursor chemicals, Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) adapted by diversifying their sources– evidenced by fentanyl shipments from India to Mexico.

“Mexican TCOs are likely poised to take a larger role in both the production and the supply of fentanyl and fentanyl-containing illicit pills to the United States,” the report reads.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.
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