The number of fentanyl-related deaths in California has skyrocketed over the past six years.

For comparison, around 230 fentanyl deaths were reported in 2016. Now that number has jumped to nearly 5,800 in 2021 — marking an increase of over 2,000 percent.

That alarming number has local leaders and victims’ families speaking out and demanding more legislation, including extra safeguards on social media and stricter penalties for fentanyl dealers.

“As a mom, this scares the hell out of me,” said Irvine Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris. “As a legislator, I am determined to act.”

Petrie-Norris is pushing for stiffer penalties for fentanyl dealers caught selling the drug on social media.

“The reality is that dealers don’t need to lurk in dark street corners or remote parking lots,” said Petrie-Norris. “Now they are connecting with our kids on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp.”

  • Irvine Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris speaking at a press conference and raising awareness of fentanyl-related deaths in California on April 28, 2023. (KTLA)
  • Fentanyl pills
  • FILE - The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), Dec. 4, 2018, in Philadelphia.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved selling overdose antidote naloxone over-the-counter, Wednesday, March 29, 2023, marking the first time a opioid treatment drug will be available without a prescription.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
  • Fentanyl pills

Petrie-Norris recently introduced two bills to address the growing issue.

AB-1027 would help law enforcement investigate fentanyl deaths linked to social media platforms and would require those companies to retain information about suspected dealers on their sites that would be accessible by law enforcement.

AB-955 would raise the punishment for selling fentanyl from a two-to-four-year jail sentence to a three-to-nine-year sentence. But Petrie-Norris says some legislators may not be on board as her proposals have been stalled in a public safety committee.

“I’m disappointed by the outcome of those hearings,” she said.

Many heads of local law enforcement along with surviving family members and the O.C. District Attorney are calling on state lawmakers to pass tougher laws to combat the fentanyl crisis.

“California has specifically let down our crime victims,” said Todd Spitzer, Orange County District Attorney. “This is not a war on drugs. It’s a war on murder.”

O.C. leaders are also calling for more fentanyl education in schools and easier access to Narcan, a medicine used to reverse the effects of an overdose. They believe Narcan should be available in every school across the state and to the general public.
“These two bills that the assemblywoman is bringing forward are critical because we know that social media is the place where people are being targeted,” said Katrina Foley, Orange County Supervisor.

“I will not accept that there will be no solutions from the California legislature,” said Spitzer.