The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office has recently been awarded a federal grant in the amount of $340,000 by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a subdivision of the US Department of Justice, to assist with the investigation and prosecution of opioid-related crimes committed in Sonoma County. The program administering the grant has described it as an “innovative prosecution solution,” noting that “local prosecutors’ offices struggle to effectively adjust to the growing amount of evidence and the subsequent intricacies of the investigation and prosecution of crimes, particularly cyber, human trafficking, gun, and drug crimes.”
Working with federal grant administrators, and using the funding from the grant program, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office has launched SCOPE (Sonoma County Opioid Prosecution Effort,) a project designed to strengthen coordination among law enforcement, increase training in investigative techniques and evidence gathering for local law enforcement officers, and improve sharing of data and evidence between agencies.
Opioid-related crimes present a growing challenge in Sonoma County, in particular those related to the drug fentanyl. In 2019, a 13 month old child died after coming into contact with the drug while in the care of his father, who had overdosed and later died. In this particular case, the drugs were procured in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco and transported to Santa Rosa for sale. In another case a 14 year old female died after overdosing on fentanyl in the back seat of her 16 year old friend’s vehicle.
Data from the Sonoma County Coroner’s Office shows deaths by overdose reached 72 in 2018, and 77 in 2019, with 15 deaths occurring in just the first two months of 2020. In 2019, fentanyl was detected in 38 of the total of 77 deaths, and in 11 out of the total of 15 deaths in 2020. According to the most recent data available from the California Department of Public Health’s California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard, the Sonoma County opioid-related overdose death rate of 9.8 per 100,000 residents in 2018 was nearly 70% above the California Statewide rate of 5.82 per 100,000 during that same year.
Also, according to an October 2018 report prepared by Sarah Katz, former chief epidemiologist for Sonoma County, emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses (excluding heroin) in Sonoma County increased by 50% between 2010 and 2017, from 12 visits per 100,000 in population in 2010 to 18 visits per 100,000 in 2017. The County’s 2017 rate was 80% higher than the rate for California as a whole during the same year (10 per 100,000). The increase was particularly dramatic for individuals in the 20-24 year old age group, going from a total of 54 visits per year in 2005 to 119 visits in 2014, an increase of 120%.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch noted, “The danger to public safety posed by these highly addictive and oftentimes deadly substances cannot be taken lightly. All available resources, from education to treatment to prosecution, need to be employed to combat the prevalence of opioid abuse in our community. We are hopeful that this grant initiative will help facilitate the coordination of limited resources, and enable us to better target the threat.”