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New Santa Cruz County Sheriff Fentanyl Crisis taskforce aims to prevent overdose deaths

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION-TV) -- Fentanyl continues to plague Santa Cruz County. County law enforcement is taking action by hiring more people on their narcotics team, as well as partnering up with a non-profit to treat people with addiction.

Last year, 133 people died because of fentanyl in Santa Cruz County, which is more than double the number of homicides, suicides, and deadly traffic accidents combined, according to the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office is using this as a wake-up call to stop addiction before it starts.

"And on the prevention side, we're working with the schools and the county office of education on developing a program on how we can stop that first use," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart.

Janus, a non-profit working with the sheriff's office, says people are testing positive for the drug without knowing.

"We're seeing, probably 80% of individuals are testing positive for fentanyl, even if that isn't their primary substance of use or that they're coming in for fentanyl," said Amber Williams, CEO of Janus.

A patient who wanted to stay anonymous says he died for a minute when a friend offered him a pill that contained fentanyl in Watsonville.

None of them knew it had been laced, but luckily he had made it to a hospital on time.

Illegal drug manufacturers often disguise pills with Fentanyl as Oxycodone or Xanax, according to the Sheriff's office. That's why just last week the state gave out testers specifically to see if a drug contains Fentanyl.

"Five, ten years ago when individuals could use and they knew their source or where they were getting their drugs it was just heroin or just methamphetamines. Now everything has fentanyl. So people are coming in more complex than we've seen," said Williams.

For those already taking the drug, it's not the end. Janus in Santa Cruz County expresses the need to seek help as quickly as possible if one has already consumed the drug.

"We're here for you. This is a medical condition. You're your own worst critic. Please, come ask for help. There's something for you," said Williams.

There are instructions for how to use the test strip on its package. Janus says they have 6,000 of these test strips you can pick up.

The Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office says they have doubled the size of their narcotics team and have a drug detection dog.

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Dania Romero

Dania Romero is an reporter at KION News Channel 46.


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