Fentanyl, the Silent Assassin, Invades California and Kills Thousands

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By Nathan Hochman, former US Assistant Attorney General and candidate for California Attorney General, www.NathanHochman.com

Nathan Hochman
Nathan Hochman formerly served as the US Assistant Attorney General. He is running for California Attorney General in the 2022 election.

There is a silent assassin in our midst, roaming the streets of California at night and targeting our children. This assassin does not see race, ethnicity, religion, party affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or income– it is an equal opportunity, lethal killer. This cold-blooded killer has murdered thousands of Californian children and will kill on average 17 Californians every day this year.

This executioner comes mainly from China and is schooled by the Mexican drug cartels; it is so powerful that it can kill instantly with a dose as small as two grains of sand; it operates under clever disguises so you can never actually see it before it strikes, and it can replicate itself in a lab a million times over. This silent assassin has a name – it is the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Fentanyl is not cannabis or marijuana. It is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is illegally made in unregulated drug labs operated by Mexican drug cartels, using ingredients imported from China, and deceptively added or misrepresented as other drugs so one never knows it is there. 

It is the silent assassin, hiding inside fake or counterfeit Oxycodone, Percocet, Adderall, and Xanax pills (“fentapills”) or in other tainted drugs like marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Drug dealers spread its poison using social media, like Snapchat, to reach its victims, concealing from children that they are offering a potpourri of poisonous products masquerading as other drugs.

The numbers don’t lie. In its 2020 and 2021 National Drug Threat Assessments, the DEA reported that fentanyl was responsible for over half of the drug-related deaths in California and the country. Over 1200 kilograms (1.2 billion milligrams) of illicit fentanyl were seized coming over our southern border each year – that is enough fentanyl to kill every man, woman, and child in the United States four times over.

The spread of fentanyl is a crisis, and public safety policy in California has unfortunately failed to keep up. We cannot maintain the status quo and allow fentanyl dealers to continue to proliferate their poison in our communities. We need solutions.

A good place to start would have been the passage of SB 350 in the California State legislature. The proposal was simple: require notice to convicted fentanyl dealers that if they commit that crime again and someone dies, they could be charged with murder. Known as Alexandra’s law, SB 350 is named after Alexandra Capelouto, a 20-year-old college student who was murdered when she unknowingly purchased a counterfeit Oxycodone pill deceptively sold to her by a drug dealer using the social media platform Snapchat.

This proposed law is modeled after the notice provided to drunk drivers. That notice advises convicted drunk drivers that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is “extremely dangerous to human life,” so if it continues and someone is killed, they can be charged with murder.

Similarly, SB 350 would have provided notice to convicted fentanyl drug dealers that the manufacture and distribution of fentanyl is “extremely dangerous to human life,” and if they continue and someone dies as a result of their actions, they can be charged with murder.

SB 350 does not target users or first-time fentanyl dealers; it does not impose mandatory minimum sentences; and it does not force a prosecutor to charge a convicted fentanyl dealer with voluntary manslaughter or murder. Instead, this law seeks to prevent first-time fentanyl dealers from becoming second-time fentanyl dealers so that innocent lives are saved. 

The law sends a clear deterrent message to fentanyl dealers that the consequences of their continued killing of children with their poison will be severe. And it gives prosecutors another arrow in their quiver without taking away discretion to consider all the circumstances involved with a particular defendant.

Faced with this very sensible and balanced proposal to address the spreading plague of fentanyl deaths, the Senate Public Safety Committee acted in defiance of public safety and killed the bill. Their knee-jerk opposition was based on the flawed logic that any sentencing enhancement (even notice for a uniquely lethal drug), no matter how necessary to protect innocent lives, is necessarily wrong since it may increase incarceration for convicted fentanyl dealers who kill children in the future. The only groups that applauded this bill’s demise were Chinese fentanyl suppliers, Mexican drug lords, and fentanyl dealers. 

Since the bill’s failure, I contacted all 58 District Attorneys in California and gave them a work-around that would implement the Alexandra notice in plea agreements for convicted fentanyl dealers. Thankfully, 12 District Attorneys have agreed to implement these notices, which will ultimately save lives as fentanyl dealers will rethink whether they want to risk peddling this poison in the future.  

One of the reasons I am running for California Attorney General is to use my over 30 years of experience in the criminal justice system as a federal prosecutor, US Assistant Attorney General, and defense attorney to sound the clarion call on the mortal dangers that the silent assassin of fentanyl poses for Californians.  

Every one of the thousands of fentanyl poisoning deaths this year is a preventable death as long as the California Attorney General focuses the state’s resources in going after the fentanyl dealers and launching a massive education campaign in the middle and high schools to warn students and parents of fentanyl, the killer in their midst. 4 out of 10 non-prescription counterfeit pills are estimated to have a lethal dose of fentanyl in them.  The time to get the word out is now before even one more death occurs.  

Nathan Hochman formerly served as the US Assistant Attorney General. He is running for California Attorney General in the 2022 election.  The primary election is June 7, 2022, and his website is www.NathanHochman.com for more information.

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