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Fentanyl deaths on the rise

 December 7, 2021 at 9:18 AM PST

Speaker 1: (00:03)

Good morning. I'm Annica Colbert it's Tuesday, December 7th. Fentanyl deaths have more than quadrupled in San Diego county since 2018. More on that next, but first let's do the headlines. San Diego county public health officials reported more than 1000 new COVID 19 cases. Last Friday, marking a relative increase in daily case counts overall with the emergence of a new viral variant. There's worry about another winter. Surge and hospitals are preparing Dr. Francesca. Toni is an infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego health. She says outbreaks are still happening in schools, which is being brought home.

Unlike, you know, early on in the pandemic. Now we're finding that children are transmitting to their

Parents. Officials say you should be responsible when traveling and the best way to protect yourself from infection is getting vaccin over the weekend. An appeals court ruled that San Diego unified school district's COVID 19 vaccine mandate is in the best interest of students and that there's no religious discrimination in the mandate. The lawyer for the scripts ranch high school student, trying to stop the mandate says they'll take the case to the us Supreme court, the San Diego city council, Ted Jen Campbell as council president on Monday in a surprise move. She's been replaced with council member, Sean ELO Rivera Campbell was elected council president in 2020 and odd year elections usually nominate and retain the incumbent, but five council members voted against giving Campbell a second in San Diego's strong mayor form of government. The council president is one of the city's most powerful elected officials. They're responsible for setting council agendas, doling out committee assignments and running council meetings from KPBS. You're listening to San Diego news. Now stay with me for more of the local news. You need. Fentanyl is a deadly trifecta. It's cheap. It can be easily disguised as a different drug, and it's 50 times more potent than heroin. And the numbers show the challenge. Health officials are facing fentanyl overdoses have more than quadrupled in San Diego county since 2018 K PBS's Katie Stegel has more.

Speaker 3: (02:31)

There really is no safety net out here on the streets. Emmy McLarty survived, homelessness and addiction, and she wanted her best friend, Josh Palmer, to be able to say the same, but each push from her was met with an empty promise. He wasn't ready to get clean. Her last words to him were that she'd see him later. There

Speaker 4: (02:50)

Was always gonna be a see you later always was supposed to be a see you later. And, um, I'm not gonna him. Later.

Speaker 3: (03:00)

Palmer died of a fentanyl overdose in March on the steps of the fraternal order of Eagles. Just off the bustling university avenue in Hillcrest data from the San Diego county medical examiner's office shows at least 446 people died in 2020 with fentanyl in their system. That's four times higher than in 20 18, 9 months into the year. And already more people have died with fentanyl in their systems than last year. By the end of August, 2021, at least 534 people have died with fentanyl in their system. Even more people are expected to die by years end says Dr. Luke Bergman, he he's the director of San Diego county's behavioral health services.

Speaker 5: (03:42)

It's really hard to say when you know, the epidemic curve is gonna turn. Um, we are continuing to see increases. It's very difficult to, to control supply, right? Particularly with fentanyl because it's so strong. It's odorless, it's colorless. It's very easy, um, to transport as an illicit narcotic, it's very easy to hide in other substances because of that. So it, it represents a, a challenge

Speaker 3: (04:07)

With the disheartening truth is these deaths are mostly avoidable because the antidote Naloxone is easy to access. But misinformation about the drug and stigmas about addiction, prevent people from helping someone who's overdosing. So says Dr. Ryan Marino, a Cleveland based addiction, medical specialist, people

Speaker 6: (04:27)

Don't deserve to suffer or die, anything like that, just because, because they use drugs. Um, and so to me, this is just more stigma that, that kind of hurts people with, with substance use disorders and addiction, and even of people who just casually use drugs, um, and prevents them from getting appropriate

Speaker 3: (04:45)

Treatment. Misinformation can also impact the loved ones of those who die of fentanyl overdoses. Diane hoki lost her husband, Derek to a $15 hit of fentanyl in 2019. But she says, the man she knew was already gone when he died. I

Speaker 7: (05:01)

Realized though he was too far gone. His

Speaker 3: (05:03)

Personality was gone when her husband overdosed, hoki vividly remembers calling 9 1, 1, hoping paramedics could help.

Speaker 7: (05:11)

They were the ones that let me know like, Hey, you have a one year-old here. Like if he touches it, he will die. Instantly.

Speaker 3: (05:17)

She and Dominic left their home. The day Derek died and never returned. Marino said the team did not have the correct information.

Speaker 6: (05:25)

Any, any drugs, I mean, near an infant can be problematic. Um, but it, it's not something that is gonna get into your body unless you are injecting or snorting it, uh, it, it doesn't just cross through the skin. It isn't just getting into the air since

Speaker 3: (05:41)

A democratic major already took over the board of supervisors. Bergman with the county says they've shifted their treatment methods towards a model to reduce the likelihood of harm for drug users that can include Naloxone clean tools to inject with primary care shelter and showers.

Speaker 5: (05:59)

The spirit of it is getting people what they need and what they want. Uh, even if they're not, uh, in a particular moment able to commit to, uh, uh, kind of trajectory towards abstinence.

Speaker 3: (06:19)

Those changes came too late for people like Josh Palmer and the hoki family, whether they make a dent in the number of overdoses in future years remains to be

Speaker 1: (06:28)

Seen. And that was K PBS's. Katie Siegel, 400,000 people across the state have applied for rent relief in California, but the state's only given relief out to less than a third of those who applied K Q E D's Kate Wolf reports

Speaker 8: (06:52)

As the eviction moratorium came to a close this fall, the state encouraged anyone who had outstanding rent payments to apply for rental assistance to stave off an eviction. But months later, hundreds of thousands of tenants and landlords are still waiting on help from the state. Deborah Carlton is with the California apartment association and says long pending applications are frustrating for landlords with expenses of their own. We're

Speaker 9: (07:18)

Seeing cases where the application just shows submitted and being processed, but it's

Speaker 8: (07:24)

Taking too long. A spokesman for the state maintains that the agency is turning around most applications in 30 days, but they get different priority based on tenant income. And the process can be slowed down by incomplete eight forms.

Speaker 1: (07:39)

And that was K Q E DS. Kate Wolf Coming up California is among some of the states with the strictest gun control laws in the country. But a new investigation shows that the state failed to take guns away from thousands of domestic abusers will have that store next just after the break, California, arguably has some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, but it often struggles with enforcing those laws. A new investigation from Cal matters finds that the state failed to take guns away from of domestic abusers. And those failures can have deadly consequences and a warning. This story has some disturbing descriptions of domestic violence. Robert Lewis of Cal matters reports.

Speaker 10: (08:53)

Kelly Gray's mom knew

Speaker 11: (08:55)

Something was wrong. Kelly had grown distant after meeting her husband, but when she did reach out, like in this 2018 voicemail, she tried to sound normal. Hey,

Speaker 12: (09:04)

Gimme a call back and wanna say hi and tell about, on something to, but, um, uh, everything's good. I haven't had the baby yet, so I, you soon though, I'll let you know, right? Yeah.

Speaker 11: (09:17)

Bye. What Kelly's family didn't know was that her husband was keeping her a virtual prisoner in their central valley home, beating her with anything. He could grab a fire poker, steel, toed, boots, even a hairbrush. Shortly after that voicemail, he allegedly drove her into the orchards outside town, kneeled her down and put a gun to her head, ordering Kelly to say goodbye to the kids. Her mother, Jody Williams says they learned just how bad it was when Kelly escaped to a shelter last year,

Speaker 13: (09:47)

When you close your eyes and you think about what she had to have gone through and you know, home alone in the dark with him, you know, , that's, that's nasty.

Speaker 11: (10:00)

Kelly got a temporary domestic violence restraining order from the Madera county family court state law requires anyone who is the subject of such orders to surrender their firearms. That's because research shows, abuse is much more likely to turn deadly. When the user has a gun, Kelly told the court that her husband was always armed. She mentioned the orchard incident, but what Kelly probably didn't know when she begged for protection was that California's family courts and law enforcement often failed to take weapons away. This has been going

Speaker 14: (10:33)

On, uh, course, far too long, cuz too many lives have been law. And we know what needs

Speaker 11: (10:38)

To be done. Julia Weber is with the Gifford's law center, a gun control organization. She says judges can hold hearings and guns. They can hold an abuser in contempt. If they don't surrender their firearms.

Speaker 14: (10:48)

California is looked to as a state that has the right policies, the best policies, the safest policies with respect to firearms and domestic violence in place.

Speaker 11: (10:58)

But she says the state's failing to live up to those laws. And the reasons are myriad turnover among judges, not enough resources for extra hearings, lack of communication with local law enforcement. The result is that state records show nearly 4,600 people appear to still have a gun despite a subject of a restraining order. And those are just the people with registered weapons. Tragically.

Speaker 14: (11:23)

We know that these policies are not being fully

Speaker 11: (11:26)

Implemented at a June, 2020 hearing on Kelly's restraining order request. A judge ordered her husband, Julio gray to stay away. But in spite of all her warnings about his gun warnings in included in her case file, the judge asked just one question about firearms, sir. There's no information that you have any guns or firearms or ammunition. Do you think you have any of these items? Julio's reply. No. Good

Speaker 5: (11:54)

Morning. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen to the jury, I appreciate, uh, you

Speaker 11: (11:58)

Folks being prompt. The tragic story of Kelly Gray culminated in this same Madera county courthouse. A few weeks ago when Julio gray went on trial for her murder on July 14th last year, he stalked Kelly to a doctor's appointment and shot her. When she came out as she was loading their kids into a minivan, the loss devastated her family who hope she'll be remembered as a sweet soul who died protecting her children again. Kelly's mom.

Speaker 4: (12:26)

She made me happy. I love being her mama. I love Peter mama.

Speaker 11: (12:36)

The jury found Julio guilty. He was sentenced last month to life without parole. After the verdict, the judge read allowed another standard court order telling Julio if he had any guns, he'd need to surrender them.

Speaker 1: (12:48)

And that was Robert Lewis from Cal matters. And that's it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS midday edition at noon on K PBS radio or check out the midday edition podcast. You can also watch KPBS evening edition at five o'clock on K PBS television. And as always you can find more San Diego news I'm Anna Culbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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Fentanyl overdoses in 2020 in San Diego county were more than four times higher than in 2018, and numbers for 2021 so far show the trend continuing. Meanwhile, California has distributed rent relief to less than a third of the 400,000 people who have applied to its assistance program. Plus, this state has arguably some of the strictest gun control in the country, and yet California often fails to take guns away from domestic abusers.