Skip to main content

Soaring Fentanyl-Related Overdoses Prompt New San Diego Response Team

A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly a...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington Va., Tuesday, June 6, 2017.

A soaring number of fentanyl-related overdoses has prompted the formation of a new Drug Enforcement Administration overdose response team in San Diego County.

“We’re seeing more fentanyl in methamphetamine, recently in cocaine, we’re seeing it in heroin,” said Colin Ruane, DEA assistant special agent in charge.

“People don’t know what they’re getting when they ingest these drugs, and it leads to overdoses and sometimes those overdoses result in death,” said Ruane, a 17-year DEA veteran assigned to San Diego in June to head the task force, made up of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, along with health workers and a medical examiner.

The team will investigate overdoses, link batches of drugs and work to bring those responsible to justice, he said.

“Everybody from the person who dealt, to the person who overdosed to the person who brought it into the country in the first place from the cartels,” Ruane said. “As they distribute down the chain, we’re investigating up the chain. And we want to take it as high as we can get it and find out who’s ultimately responsible for it and bring them to justice and charge them appropriately.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, nearly 80 people died of a fentanyl-related overdose.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ruane said fentanyl-related overdoses will likely worsen because the profit margin for dealers and cartels is huge.

“The fentanyl doesn’t have to be grown. They can make it with precursor drugs and mix it in illicit labs,” he said.

“We are doing everything we can to address the problem,” Ruane said. “We are actively seeking to keep the community as safe as we can.”

“People don’t know what they’re getting when they ingest these drugs (cocaine and heroin), and it leads to overdoses, and sometimes those overdoses result in death," said Colin Ruane, DEA assistant special agent in charge.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated there were nearly 150 fentanyl-related deaths by overdose. The correct number is 80 deaths.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.