The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors at a meeting Tuesday unanimously approved the first-ever fentanyl strike team for the District Attorney’s Office to combat fentanyl issues within the county.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin or the opioid morphine, which is typically used to treat severe pain, according to San Joaquin County Public Health Services.
The “Fentanyl Intervention and Response Safety Team,” also referred to as the F.I.R.S.T Unit, will work toward fighting the scourge of fentanyl, fentanyl dealers and the problems the drug causes in the county. It will consist of three deputy district attorneys, two investigators, a crime analyst and a victim advocate.
“I see first-hand the damage and pain and loss fentanyl inflicts upon the citizens I’ve been elected to serve,” District Attorney Ron Freitas said during the meeting.
Freitas said that the new unit will provide early intervention by having rallies at high schools and an ongoing public information campaign, investigations of overdoses in order to identify “hot spots,” and cooperate with local, state and federal task forces to prosecute major traffickers.
In 2021, the county had over 60 fatal fentanyl overdoses and fire departments responding to five times as many non-fatal overdoses.
“Through education, early intervention, and enforcement we can not only protect the public with awareness and adequately dealing with large-scale dealers of fentanyl, but also continue to seek justice, not only for the victims but also for family members of those victims, who have to deal with the aftermath of fentanyl,” Freitas said.
Freitas said 982,000 doses or pills of fentanyl were seized in the county in 2022 that weighed over 20 pounds.
Additionally, from June of last year until now his office has reviewed 293 cases involving fentanyl, of which 121 were charged as felonies, 159 were filed as misdemeanors and 16 saw no charges.
The cost for establishing the F.I.R.S.T unit and adding 11 staffing positions as well as operating costs totaled $2.25 million.
When asked about the ongoing cost to maintain the unit, Freitas said it was worth it to prevent 60 overdoses a year, a number he said would continue to grow.
Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua, D-Stockton, and Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln spoke during public comment at the meeting in support of establishing the team.