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New federal initiative tackles opioid scourge in LA, Riverside counties

The Los Angeles-area office of the Drug Enforcement Administration will sharpen its focus on the opioid epidemic in Southern California under a new initiative announced Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Operation Engage allows field divisions to devote their resources to what officials there decide is the most pressing drug threat in their areas. In the case of the LA office, which covers Los Angeles, Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, that’s the painkillers, especially the man-made and powerful drug fentanyl.

Fentanyl is playing a role in 49% of the drug-caused deaths in Los Angeles County and 42% in Riverside County, officials said at a news conference in LA.

“Fentanyl is cheap, potent, and deadly.  The demand for it and other opioids remains high and, as a result, Southern California faces an ever-increasing number of overdose deaths,” said Acting United States Attorney Tracy Wilkison.

Dealers of illegal drugs are known to lace painkillers such as oxycodone with fentanyl, which can be prescribed legally but which authorities say is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, and sell them to unsuspecting customers.

In 2017, the DEA’s Los Angeles office seized about 120,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills that were actually fentanyl pills. In 2020, that number increased to 1.2 million pills.

The goals of Operation Engage include:

• Identify the drugs that affect individuals and families

• Choose strategies that best fit community needs

• Identify and eliminate local drug threats

• Support local drug abuse prevention efforts.

Under a previous program, 360 Strategy, DEA field offices were required to focus their enforcement efforts on opioids.

Wednesday’s announcement comes two days after Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said he has filed second-degree murder charges against an Eastvale man who Hestrin said knowingly sold drugs laced with fentanyl to a user who suffered a fatal overdose.

After two people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in the county in 2016, 55 died in 2018 and 227 perished in 2020, Sheriff Chad Bianco said.

Source: Orange County Register

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