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Fentanyl deaths in LA County have increased nearly 14 times over 5-year period


LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- New numbers from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health show how the fentanyl crisis has exploded in just five years.

Fentanyl-related deaths in L.A. County have increased nearly 14 times from 2016 to 2021.

Back in 2016, fentanyl was responsible for just 10% of all drug-related deaths. Last year, fentanyl was responsible for more than half.

The health department report found that there were 109 deaths attributed to fentanyl overdose in the county in 2016 -- but that number ballooned to 1,504 in 2021. Between 2016 and 2020, visits to hospital emergency rooms due to fentanyl overdoses increased by 308%, going from 133 to 542.

The district attorney's office is setting up a working group of law enforcement, prevention groups and education officials to focus on prevention in addition to enforcement.

"Enforcement definitely has a role, but when we depend on enforcement as the only solution, we have failed already," L.A. County D.A. George Gascón said.

In announcing his office's partnership with the health department on the working group to address the crisis, Gascón called the proliferation of fentanyl-related deaths "one of the gravest challenges of our times."

Juli Shamash lost her son to a fentanyl overdose four years ago.

"Kids need to hear it from more than one source. They need to hear it from their parents. They need to hear it from pediatricians," Shamash said. "They need to hear it from schools starting when they're young that you never take any drugs that aren't prescribed to you and aren't from a pharmacy."

LAPD Chief Michel Moore called fentanyl the number one drug problem in America, and shared that the LAPD has seized 1.4 million fentanyl pills just this year.

"We don't have the perfect solution to say that absolutely these drugs that you're purchasing over the street are going to be safe," said Barbara Ferrer, the public health director for L.A. County. "I think Chief Moore also indicated that they're finding so many of the pills contaminated with lethal doses of fentanyl that it's frankly frightening to think that those would have been circulating."

City News Service contributed to this report.

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