(The Center Square) – Riverside County, California, like many counties in the U.S., is struggling with an opioid crisis. In past four years, fentanyl-related deaths have increased in the affluent county by 808 percent. District Attorney Mike Hestrin hopes that by aggressively cracking down on alleged drug dealers and charging them with murder, deaths will decrease.
In the past two weeks, his office charged three men with murder for allegedly supplying fentanyl to drug users; a fourth was arrested on suspicion of murder related to dealing.
Jeremiah David Carlton, 18, of Canyon Lake, Joseph Michael Costanza, 21, of Eastvale, and Raymond Gene Tyrrell Jr., 18, of French Valley, were charged with murder on suspicion of selling fentanyl-spiked drugs to individuals who subsequently died from an overdose, including a 16-year-old girl from French Valley.
“In the last five years, the number of fentanyl deaths has doubled every year,” Hestrin said. “We’re trying to get ahead of this wave of poisonings.”
There were 25 fentanyl-related fatal overdoses in 2017, which more than doubled to 55 in 2018, which again more than doubled to 117 in 2019 and to 227 in 2020.
According to Drug.com, “Fentanyl is an opioid pain medication, sometimes called a narcotic. Fentanyl patches are a strong prescription pain medicine.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency explains that fentanyl “is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful opioid properties, Fentanyl is also diverted for abuse.”
Prosecutors in other parts of the country and in California are taking a similar approach, the Ocean County Register reports, partnering with local law enforcement “to launch a front-line assault on drug suppliers selling fentanyl-spiked drugs to people who subsequently overdose and die.
“Prosecutors in San Luis Obispo and Contra Costa counties have charged suspected drug dealers with murder in the past year, as have prosecutors in Florida and Colorado. But in Southern California, Riverside County stands alone so far.”
In Florida, for example, two adults were charged on Friday with first-degree murder after being accused of selling fentanyl that resulted in an overdose death last August. Authorities said they were able to trace the drugs to 36-year-old Brenna Powers of Clearwater and 38-year-old Jesse Carlisle, who is transient. A grand jury indicted them on March 5. Powers was arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Carlisle was already in county jail on multiple drug charges, Patch.com reports.
Southern California county law enforcement agencies continue to post record numbers of drug seizures and deaths.
In 2019, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office seized 18 pounds of fentanyl, worth $1.25 million, five pounds of heroin, and a half-pound of methamphetamine. From 2017 to 2020, fentanyl-related deaths increased in the county by 505 percent.
In Los Angeles County, since 2018, the sheriff’s department has recovered more than 1,500 pounds of fentanyl, excluding the pill form, estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. From 2017 to 2020, fentanyl-related deaths increased in the county by 240 percent.
Since 2018, San Bernardino County authorities have seized more than 334 pounds of fentanyl. From 2017 to 2020, fentanyl-related deaths increased in the county by 960 percent.
Last month, state Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, in Riverside County, introduced a bill to combat fentanyl-related deaths. The bill is called, “Alexandra’s Law” named after a 20-year-old college student who died of a fentanyl overdose while visiting her parents’ Temecula home during Christmas in 2019.
The proposed legislation would require judges to issue a warning to first-time offenders they convict of selling or distributing controlled substances, notifying them that they could be charged with murder if a person who buys their drugs dies from them.
Democratic Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, of Orange County, is a co-sponsor.
Riverside County is aggressively prosecuting fentanyl dealers for murder
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