Fentanyl deaths are on the rise in Santa Clara County. Several of these deaths linked to fake pills

Santa Clara County, CA. Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid drug — 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine—and exposure to even small amounts can cause overdose and death. While pharmaceutical fentanyl is approved for treating severe pain, fentanyl is also used in fake pills and in powder form. Many people take these pills thinking they are taking oxycodone, unaware that they may contain lethal doses of fentanyl.  Even one pill, a fragment of a pill or one snort can be fatal.


  • From January 1, 2020 to May 8, 2020, 19 fentanyl deaths have been reported in Santa Clara County
  • In the same period last year there were 7 fentanyl death. In 2019, a total of 29 fentanyl deaths were reported in Santa Clara County.
  • Some deaths are connected to taking fake pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl.

From January 1, 2020 to May 8, 2020, 19 fentanyl deaths* have been reported by the County of Santa Clara Medical Examiner. During the same period last year, January 1, 2019 to May 8, 2019, there were 7 fentanyl-related fatalities. Several of this year’s deaths have been linked to fake pills containing fentanyl, made to look like a 30mg oxycodone prescription pill. Ages of the deceased range from 16-56 years of age, with 10 deaths of the 19 fentanyl-related deaths in the 16 to 25 years old age range.  

Many opioid pills are made by counterfeiting organizations and most pills on the street are fake. Fake pills are made to look like real prescription medications and come in different types, shapes and colors. Many of the fake oxycodone pills are blue, circular tablets marked with a “M” in a square on one side, and a “30” on the other. Fentanyl is also available in a powder form which is as dangerous and deadly. County law enforcement agencies have seized pure powdered fentanyl and routinely find fentanyl as an additive in other street drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine.

No one should take a pill that was not obtained directly from a pharmacy. Pills given by a friend or bought from others also should not be taken. Taking any “off the street” pills at home when alone is dangerous. Taking fake pills in any circumstance could have deadly consequences.

The District Attorney’s Office and multiple law enforcement agencies across the county have discovered fake pills containing fentanyl may be in wide circulation. County and state officials have seized large quantities from multiple locations across Santa Clara County. A rapid response collaborative team has been established in the County of Santa Clara with representation from Behavioral Health Services, District Attorney’s Office, Health and Hospital Systems, Medical Examiner, and Public Health. This collaborative team is working together to investigation recent deaths; and alert healthcare providers, schools, parents, young adults and youth, community-based organizations, and residents.

Social distancing during this pandemic may be particularly hard for some people, and with other stressors, may be contributing to the rise in the fentanyl-related deaths and substance use. Services are available for those who are struggling with stress and substance use issues including fentanyl. The County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department is available to help:

  • Substance use treatment services/Gateway: 1-800-488-9919
  • Mental Health Services: 1-800-704-0900
  • Youth and Young Adult Substance Use Treatment Services: 408-272-6518
    (Monday-Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM)
  • Suicide Crisis Hotline: 1-855-278-4204 (24 hours a day/7 days a week)
  • Crisis Text Line” Text “renew” to 741741 (24 hours per day/7 days per week)

Naloxone (also known by its brand name, Narcan®) can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Pharmacists are permitted to prescribe Naloxone without a prescription. Contact a local pharmacy to confirm that they have Naloxone available. Free Narcan®, training and kits can be obtained from the Santa Clara County Opioid Overdose Prevention Project (www.sccgov.org/sccoopp​) and the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department (www.sccnex.org​)

*These numbers are expected to change as the Medical Examiner continues to receive toxicology reports on other open cases.




News Release


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