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The growing crisis: Region's law enforcement officials say fentanyl-related deaths surging


Santa Barbara County's Sheriff says the county's opioid deaths have tripled in recent years, with fentanyl at the center of the problem.

Tuesday was National Fentanyl Awareness Day.

Some of Southern California’s leading law enforcement officials commemorated it by gathering to focus attention on the crisis, one which included a blunt warning to drug dealers.

"We send a strong message to those in Santa Barbara County who sell, or distribute this poison: It will not be tolerated," said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. He was part of a Los Angeles news conference focusing on the crisis.

The Sheriff says the crisis has been sweeping America, and the county hasn’t been immune.

"I'm here today, as the Sheriff of Santa Barbara County, to let you know that this is just not a problem in big cities, or big counties...we are also having an escalating problem with fentanyl," said Brown.

Brown said the county has seen the tripling of fentanyl-related deaths in the last few years.

The prosecutors, and law enforcement leaders taking place in the news conference emphasized that the crisis is something we can’t solve with arrests. It’s too widespread.

"Law enforcement alone cannot solve this problem. Education and treatment are key," said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. "We need everyone in our community coming together, from public officials, to politicians...religious leaders...medical professionals...educators...parents, peers, everyone spreading the message that one pill can kill."

They said tracking down dealers has taken a new, and more difficult twist. Buyers and sellers now often connect on social medial platforms, unlike the stereotype of the neighborhood drug dealer.

Prosecutors say smartphones have tuned communities into open-air drug markets. They say one of the keys to this battle is reducing the demand, by educating people about the dangers of the fentanyl-based pills.

Federal prosecutors used the event to announce 12 major fentanyl-related cases they are prosecuting, including some in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. They said one of their tactics now is not just going after dealers for selling drugs. It’s prosecuting them on even more serious charges when they link the drugs involved to overdoses, and deaths.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.