Former White House Deputy Drug Czar Prioritizes California Fentanyl Crisis in 2023
(Sacramento, CA) – Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana) announced today that he is prioritizing California’s fentanyl crisis in 2023 and has introduced 4 measures to help stem the explosion of fentanyl poisonings.
“As lawmakers, we have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to protect lives in California,” said Senator Umberg. “The scourge of synthetic opioids like fentanyl is unlike anything we have ever seen,” he continued. “We have lost more people to opioid overdose in the last year alone than the number of U.S. military personnel killed during the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined – we cannot continue to throw up our hands in confusion while an entire generation of Americans perishes.”
Approximately 107,477 people died from drug overdoses overall in the U.S. in the 12-month period ending in August 2022, making it the leading cause of injury-related deaths. California accounts for approximately 20% of that statistic. This represents a nearly 750% increase from 2015 to 2021 and the largest amount ever recorded in a calendar year. Most of these deaths (~66%) are caused by illicit synthetic drugs like clandestinely manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine, often in combination with other drugs, including cocaine and heroin.
To make matters worse, youth under 24 account for the fastest rise in drug deaths. In California where fentanyl deaths were rare just five years ago, a young person under 24 is now dying every 12 hours. The biggest factor attributing to this danger is the undisclosed addition of fentanyl to other drugs which can, and does, often lend itself to fentanyl poisoning and death. Among teenagers, overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl tripled in the past two years, yet 73% have never heard of fake prescription pills being made with fentanyl.
In fact, fentanyl poisoning has been attributed to several high profile deaths in the last few years including rappers Mac Miller, Lil’ Peep, and Shock G (Digital Underground), singers Prince, Tom Petty, and Luke Bell, actor Michael K. Williams, author Michelle McNamara, and comedians Fuquon Johnson and Rico Angeli. None were known fentanyl users but had been known to use other drugs for recreation, pain relief, or depression. Singer Demi Lovato almost died from a fentanyl poisoning, as well.
To put these numbers into perspective:
• Fentanyl now kills more people ages 18-45 than automobile accidents, gunshots, suicides, and even COVID-19 in 2021.
• All told, more people have now died of synthetic-opioid overdoses than the number of U.S. military personnel killed during the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
• Roughly 194 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
• On average, one person dies of a fentanyl overdose in the United States every seven minutes.
When Driving Under the Influence (DUI) deaths peaked in the 1990s, the public demanded swift and comprehensive action by lawmakers. The Legislature rose to this occasion by passing a series of measures exemplifying a holistic and multi-pronged approach as a response. By addressing DUI deaths in a comprehensive manner through education, law enforcement, and harm reduction angles, California was able to turn the escalation of DUI-deaths around and preserve public safety.
As the former Deputy Drug Czar (Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy) under President Bill Clinton, a former United States attorney and career prosecutor, Senator Umberg is uniquely positioned to lead a similar effort to address our fentanyl crisis.
Senator Umberg’s 2023 legislation pertaining to fentanyl consists of:
SB 44 – Alexandra’s Law/Fentanyl Admonishment: Jointly authored with Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, the measure equires that a written advisory or admonishment be issued to a person convicted of a fentanyl-related drug offense notifying the person of the danger of manufacturing and distributing controlled substances and of potential future criminal liability if another person dies as a result of that person’s actions. SB 44 is sponsored by San Diego Mayor, Todd Gloria, co-authored by over 1/3 of the Legislature (to date), and supported by victims’ families, law enforcement agencies, and local governments, among others.
SB 60 – Drug Content on Social Media Platforms: Allows for private legal action to be taken against social media companies who fail to timely and immediately remove drug content from their platforms.
SB 250 – Fentanyl Self-Reporting and Immunity: Expands California’s 911 Good Samaritan law to include self-reporting of fentanyl poisonings and opioid overdoses to law enforcement and medical assistance through fentanyl testing strips and other medical devices such as smart watches.
Pending Senate Resolution – National Fentanyl Awareness Day: Declares the second Tuesday of May every year as Fentanyl Awareness Day in California.
“Drug addiction, treatment, and rehabilitation will always be a focus for lawmakers as a consequence of drug use and addiction,” said Senator Umberg. “In the meantime, we must do everything we can to prevent fentanyl poisonings and deaths in an effort to save the lives of Californians.”
Through the introduction of measures to educate the public (a pending Senate Resolution), ensure responsibility by social media companies (SB 60), provide harm reduction strategies with accountability (SB 250), and give law enforcement additional tools (SB 44), Senator Umberg is making the fentanyl crisis and the saving of lives his top priority in 2023.
For questions about any of these measures included, please feel free to contact his Capitol Office at (916) 651-4034.
Fact sheets for referenced measures are attached for further information.
Senator Thomas J. Umberg represents the 34th Senate District, which includes the cities of Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton, Garden Grove, La Habra, Long Beach, Orange, Placentia, Santa Ana, and East and South Whittier. Umberg is a retired U.S. Army Colonel, former federal prosecutor, and small businessman. He and his wife, Brigadier General Robin Umberg, USA (ret.), live in Orange County.