240 fentanyl-related deaths so far in 2023 mark a high for Sacramento County, new data show


The number of annual fentanyl-related deaths in Sacramento County has continued to climb over the past five years and has already set a new high this year, with several weeks still remaining in 2023, according to data collected by the coroner’s office.

The county recorded 17 fentanyl-related deaths in 2018, then nearly doubled that mark the following year before jumping to more than 100 deaths in 2020. In the past three years, the number of deaths has surpassed 200.

The data, as of Tuesday collected through Oct. 8, show 240 fentanyl-related deaths so far this year in Sacramento County, up from a previous high of 228 in 2022.

The numbers are available in a fentanyl deaths dashboard on the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office website. Coroner Rosa Vega led the effort to create the data dashboard after she was appointed to the job last year.

Vega has told The Sacramento Bee that she’s hopeful that “sharing this data will educate the public, all stakeholders, policymakers and community-based organizations.” She also said she’s confident they can all work toward providing services and finding solutions to save lives.

The online portal displays five years of data showing a total of 841 fentanyl-related deaths in the county. The portal also includes a map broken down into regions representing the county’s five supervisor districts, along with charts that display age, other drugs found in the system, homeless status, gender and ethnicity.

Authorities have said fentanyl, primarily made in foreign clandestine labs and smuggled into the United States, is increasingly being pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioid tablets. Dealers are known to sell fentanyl pills using social media apps.

Fentanyl also can come in powder and vape pens, and 2 milligrams can provide a lethal dose, officials say. Fentanyl can shut down breathing, cause cardiac arrest and kill within minutes. Authorities said prescription pills such as Xanax, Percocet and Oxycodone purchased from somewhere other than a pharmacy are likely to be fake and are potentially deadly.

County officials have created public awareness campaigns, such as Safer Sacramento, to warn parents and their children about the dangers from fentanyl and other drugs such as methamphetamine.

Sacramento-area district attorneys crack down on fentanyl

Local prosecutors have gone after those suspected of supplying to fentanyl to people who died after ingesting the synthetic opioid.

In August, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office filed its first murder case stemming from a fentanyl death. Ronald James Ehman is accused in the death of 24-year-old Mary Milagro Siryj of Folsom on July 26.

The Placer County District Attorney’s Office has filed murder charges in four fentanyl deaths. District Attorney Morgan Gire has said his office uses this approach “sparingly — as it should be used — and in the most egregious of circumstances.”

One of those four criminal cases, the prosecution of Nathaniel Evan Cabacungan, ended last month with the 22-year-old man sentenced to prison as the first person in California to be convicted of a murder charge in a fentanyl death.

Cabacungan gave a lethal dose of fentanyl to 15-year-old Jewels Marie Wolf last year and left her to die alone in her Roseville home, the girl’s mother, Regina Leah Chavez, has said. The grieving mother plans to join with other parents to honor the children they’ve lost to fentanyl.

“I am stricken with a lifetime of grief,” Chavez said shortly after Cabacungan was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. “I am honored to know that Jewels’ story is going to help save so many lives going forward.”