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4 deaths possibly tied to fentanyl reported in Anaheim in 3 separate overdose cases

Memorial candles in Anaheim.
Memorial candles in Anaheim for drug overdose victims.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Four people are dead after a possible string of fentanyl overdoses in three unrelated cases in Anaheim that unfolded Monday, authorities said.

Police did not find any drugs at the three locations but discovered foil and other drug paraphernalia, officials with the Anaheim Police Department said.

Authorities think the drugs were ingested in a variety of ways at three separate locations. Officials are awaiting toxicology reports from the coroner’s division of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to confirm whether fentanyl was involved in the deaths. Those reports could take up to eight weeks, Anaheim Police Sgt. Shane Carringer said.

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All three emergency calls occurred within about one hour, police said.

“To get four deaths in the span of an hour in a city the size of Anaheim, that is an enormous increase for us,” Carringer said.

Three people died early Saturday morning in Venice after overdosing, reportedly on fentanyl-laced cocaine.

At 11:40 a.m., a woman was found dead in a motel room in the 800 block of South Beach Boulevard. Twenty minutes later, a man was found dead in the 1700 block of South State College Boulevard. Both were determined to have died of drug overdoses, authorities said.

At 12:48 p.m., police responded to the 500 block of South Anaheim Boulevard, where they found three men. Two were pronounced dead at the scene, and the third was revived with Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, a nasal treatment used to counteract a known or suspected opioid overdose. That man was taken to a hospital in critical condition, Carringer said.

Police did not provide the names or ages of the four people who died or of the man who was hospitalized.

Though police do not have a definitive answer for all the deaths, they think some form of opioid was involved in at least one overdose, the one in which the man was revived with Narcan.

“When you have that many people overdose on opiates, it’s pretty safe to assume that there’s probably some level of fentanyl in it,” Carringer said. “Because usually people don’t miss their dosing that badly.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 80 times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2021, drug overdose deaths in the United States topped 100,000, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl making up nearly two-thirds of all drug deaths over a 12-month period.

“People inadvertently take fentanyl, because the dealers will cut it with heroin,” said Linnea Axman, a family nurse practitioner and doctor of public health with the University of Phoenix College of Nursing. “Fentanyl is very easy to manufacture.”

Axman said that when she worked in homelessness outreach to medically underserved people, her patients were not always clearly aware what they were using when they used heroin.

“Could they give it a name? Not always,” Axman said. “They were aware the heroin was cut with something, but the need to use heroin overruled any fear of overdose.”

Police announced the deaths Monday on social media to alert the public about the “alarming” series of events and to try to stave off additional deaths, Carringer said.

Some California prosecutors are seeking to charge drug dealers with murder if they are convicted of selling or making drugs with fentanyl that leads to someone’s death. Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer announced the new legal approach in response to a jump in fentanyl overdoses in the last five years.

“These dealers are essentially handing a loaded gun to unsuspecting victims knowing that they will probably die, and they don’t care,” Spitzer said. “Fentanyl is cheap, it’s easy to get and it’s killing people who had no idea they were taking it.”


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