LOS ANGELES — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today provided an update on the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ongoing work to address the fentanyl crisis, including the seizure of over 4 million fentanyl pills and almost 900 pounds of fentanyl powder, and over 200 arrests through the DOJ’s Bureau of Investigation and work with allied task forces throughout California since April 2021. DOJ continues this work through the Fentanyl Enforcement Program, a statewide enforcement initiative designed to detect, deter, disrupt, and dismantle criminal fentanyl operations and prevent fentanyl from reaching California neighborhoods and communities. In addition to this on-the-ground work, Attorney General Bonta continues an all-in approach by advancing effective public policy and working with national partners to hold the opioid industry accountable for their role in creating the opioid crisis and its impacts. To date, the California Department of Justice has secured over $32 billion through nationwide settlements, including $2 billion for California, bringing needed funding back to communities for treatment and prevention strategies.
“Throughout the nation, we continue to address the impacts of the opioid crisis, and have in recent years seen a marked increase in fentanyl use and associated deaths,” said Attorney General Bonta. “This crisis is a multifaceted public health and safety issue — and addressing this crisis requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. Whether through the seizure of illicit fentanyl through our ongoing enforcement efforts or by bringing California billions of dollars through our lawsuits and investigative efforts to hold the opioid industry accountable, the California Department of Justice is all-in when it comes to protecting California families from the dangers of fentanyl. I want to thank our teams and our law enforcement partners across the state for their work in taking fentanyl off our streets and out of Californian communities. There are countless lives being saved as a result of their important and difficult work.”
Fentanyl is a powerful and potentially addictive synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. A small amount of fentanyl, just two milligrams, can result in overdose and potentially death. Fentanyl can be found in different forms, including pills, powder, and liquid, and is produced legally through the legal pharmaceutical market and illegally through the illicit drug market. Illicit fentanyl has been found in many drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, counterfeit pills, and cocaine. Fentanyl mixed with any drug increases the likelihood of a fatal overdose. Illicit fentanyl has also reportedly been produced in rainbow colors, potentially aimed at increasing consumption among users, especially young adults.
In California in 2020, 5,502 people died due to opioid overdose, and 3,946 died due to fentanyl overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation has experienced the overdose epidemic in three distinct but interconnected waves: an increase in deaths from prescription opioid overdoses since the 1990s, an increase in heroin deaths starting in 2010, and a more recent surge in deaths from other illicit opioids, such as fentanyl. Attorney General Bonta is addressing this challenge through an all-in, multifaceted approach using ongoing enforcement, litigation, and effective public policy strategies for prevention.
Through the Fentanyl Enforcement Program, DOJ works with local and federal law enforcement partners throughout the state. In 2022-2023 budget year, DOJ secured $7.9 million for the creation of the program within DOJ under coordination of the Bureau of Investigation to expand this important work, with an allocation of $6.7 million in ongoing funding. This funding is in addition to DOJ’s ongoing efforts through its Bureau of Forensic Services, which, among other things, supports law enforcement across the state by directly screening for and quantifying the amount of fentanyl present in drug offense-related samples submitted to DOJ.
Since April 2021, DOJ allied task forces throughout the state have aggressively and strategically worked to detect, deter, disrupt, and dismantle fentanyl operations and criminal enterprises, supply chain networks, and other associated criminal syndicates to prevent fentanyl from reaching California neighborhoods and communities and help those directly impacted by this public health crisis. This work has touched many communities including:
- Southern California through the Los Angeles IMPACT Task Force with nearly 2.3 million fentanyl pills and 762 pounds of powder seized, and 121 suspects arrested.
- Inland Empire, through the Inland Crackdown Allied Task Force with 790,000 pills and over 36 pounds of fentanyl powder seized and 25 suspects arrested.
- Northern California, through the Placer County Special Investigation Team with four pounds of fentanyl powder seized, and 34 suspects arrested, including an investigation leading to the conviction of Virgil Bordner for his role in the death of Placer County teen who overdosed on fentanyl in 2020.
- Central Valley, through the Merced Area Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team, with 440,000 pills and 15 pounds of fentanyl powder seized and 18 suspects arrested, as well as the High Impact Investigation Team, with 488,000 pills and 47 pounds of fentanyl powder seized and 17 suspects arrested.
The opioid crisis stems from an increase in prescription opioids and illegal practices by opioid manufacturers and sellers who misled healthcare providers and patients about the addictive nature of opioids, contributed to an over-supply of opioids in the market, and helped create the crisis the country faces today. Through ongoing litigation and investigative efforts, DOJ seeks to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors who are alleged to have fueled the crisis to account, and to bring funding and relief to affected communities nationwide, including:
- $26 billion through a settlement with Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen – the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors – and Johnson & Johnson, a company that manufactured and marketed opioids.
- $6 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family over their role in the opioid epidemic.
- Nearly $6 billion settlement pending with opioid manufacturers Allergan and Teva to participating states and local governments, resolving allegations the companies deceptively marketed opioids and failed to maintain controls to prevent diversion.
- $573 million settlement with McKinsey & Company resolving California’s investigation into the company’s role in advising opioid companies, helping those companies promote their drugs, and profiting from the opioid epidemic.
Prevention and Public Policy Strategies
Through nationwide settlements, Attorney General Bonta and other state attorneys general have sought strong monetary relief and injunctive terms to help address and mitigate the impacts of the opioid crisis. The terms of the settlements, including requirements for funding received by states, outline high-impact abatement activities and strategies such as:
- Interrupting and preventing illicit opioid trafficking through strategic, impactful enforcement.
- Increasing support for substance-use disorder facilities and improved infrastructure for treatment.
- Addressing the needs of communities of color and vulnerable populations, including those who are unhoused.
- Strengthening availability of Naloxone (also known as NARCAN) or other FDA-Approved overdose reversal drugs.
- Doubling down on interventions for drug addiction in vulnerable youth and supporting those in the juvenile justice system with treatment options.
- Improving training and resources for law enforcement and first responders regarding appropriate practices and precautions when dealing with fentanyl or other drugs, including with regard to addressing the needs of criminal justice involved persons with opioid-use disorder and mental health issues.
- Implementing best practices for outreach, diversion, and deflection.
- Supporting job creation programs to help connect those recovering from substance use disorders with gainful employment and pathways to financial stability.
- Improving data-sharing and management systems to detect suspicious activity, including with regard to the prescription of controlled substances.