Santa Clara County reports sharp jump in fentanyl-related deaths this year

File photo -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection officails announced the biggest fentanyl bust ever on Thursday. Jan. 31, 2019. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Reported fentanyl-related deaths in Santa Clara County nearly tripled from January to May 8 of this year compared to the same period in 2019, the county medical examiner's office said Wednesday.

The Santa Clara County medical examiner's office reported 19 fentanyl deaths from Jan. 1 to May 8 in 2020. Only seven fentanyl-related deaths were reported during that same timespan last year. The county reported 29 total fentanyl deaths in 2019.

Many of the deaths reported this year have been caused by fake pills containing the synthetic opioid, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. All reported deaths ranged from people 16 to 56 years old, with 10 of the 19 ranging from 16 to 25 years old.

Residents are advised to avoid all pills that are not obtained directly from a pharmacy. In particular, fentanyl-laced pills tend to be blue, circular tablets with an embossed "M" on one side and "30" on the other.

People struggling with stress and substance use can contact the county's Behavioral Health Services Department at (800) 488-9919 for help.

The department's substance abuse call center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while its mental health services call center is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week at (800) 704-0900.