SAN DIEGO (CNS) - San Diego's top law enforcement officials issued a dire warning Friday about a dramatic surge in deaths and international trafficking activity related to fentanyl and its even more deadly cousin, carfentanil.
While fentanyl is 30-to-50 times more powerful than heroin, concern among law enforcement has intensified with the emergence of carfentanil, a drug 100 times stronger than fentanyl that is normally used as a sedative for animals like elephants. It takes only a few granules the size of grains of table salt to kill someone, officials said.
Officials said there has been a significant increase in fentanyl-related deaths in San Diego County since 2014, which mirrors a national trend. In the first nine months of this year, there have been 40 overdoses in San Diego, more than all of 2016.
Across the country, more than 64,000 people died as a result of opioid overdose last year, officials said.
According to authorities, more than 75 percent of fentanyl seizures across the southwest border is coming through ports of entry in the Southern District of California from Mexico.
Federal authorities, led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations, confiscated 480 kilograms of illicit fentanyl at the border this year, That's more than half a ton and almost double last year's take.
Just two years ago, authorities seized 30 kilograms of fentanyl.
"This rapid increase in seizures and deaths tells us that we are on a very dangerous trajectory," Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson said. "There is no question that this is an epidemic with legs and it is sprinting. Every law enforcement agency in our community, whether federal, local or state, is on high alert. We will not allow San Diego and Imperial counties to serve as a Fentanyl Gateway for the rest of the country. Nor will we allow Mexican cartels to capitalize on the opiate crisis."
Authorities said fentanyl trafficking is a very lucrative business. One kilogram of fentanyl costs about $32,000 and can be used to create a million counterfeit pills for a profit of more than $20 million.
Officials said users are ordering fentanyl from the so-called "Dark Web," like they would order something from Amazon. The drug is being purchased online from China and sent directly to customers by mail or express delivery service in the United States, authorities said.
In addition, fentanyl is turning up in counterfeit oxycodone pills, authorities said. Federal agents in the Southern District of California have seized more than 20,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl this year.
"You may think you're buying Oxy on the streets or from the web, but there's no way to know what's inside that pill," Robinson said. "With every pill you purchase illicitly on the streets or through the web, and consume, you are gambling with your life. With every pill, you are making a potentially life- changing decision. Because if you end up with a tainted dose, you are done. You leave children behind, your parents behind, your spouses behind."
People who need help with mental health, including alcohol or drug abuse, suicide prevention or medication needs can call the San Diego County Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.