California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’ll send his state’s National Guard and the California Highway Patrol to fight fentanyl trafficking in San Francisco.

Newsom, who served as San Francisco mayor from 2004 to 2010, said the agencies would work with the San Francisco Police Department and District Attorney’s Office to take on large-scale drug trafficking operations.

“Through this new collaborative partnership, we are providing more law enforcement resources and personnel to crack down on crime linked to the fentanyl crisis, holding the poison peddlers accountable, and increasing law enforcement presence to improve public safety and public confidence in San Francisco,” Newsom said in a statement.

Newsom’s office said the partnership with law enforcement will focus on targeting drug suppliers and traffickers and not criminalize those who struggle with substance abuse.

In 2021 there were 5,722 deaths in California related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, according to the California Department of Public Health, and state lawmakers are debating the best way to combat the opioid crisis. The San Francisco Department of Health said drug overdoses from fentanyl began to increase in 2015 because it was found in illicit drugs, and San Francisco has seen a more than 40% increase in overdose deaths between January and March 2023, according to the governor’s office.

Newsom was sensitive to San Francisco’s reputation for crime in announcing the program.

“Two truths can co-exist at the same time: San Francisco’s violent crime rate is below comparably sized cities like Jacksonville and Fort Worth — and there is also more we must do to address public safety concerns, especially the fentanyl crisis,” he said.

Newsom has the support of San Francisco police chief Bill Scott, who said in a statement his department welcomes “the support of our state partners because when we work together we can make a significant difference to make our city safer.” But not all public officials are on board.

Supervisor Dean Preston called the program a “publicity stunt,” according to ABC 7, and said Newsom vetoed legislation for overdose prevention sites he believes led to increased public drug use and overdoses.

In a letter to Newsom, the California Assembly Republican Caucus asked the governor to support four pieces of legislation targeting fentanyl.

ART police officer Eric Hofstein displays the Fentanyl he confiscated while patrolling the Civic Center Station BART platform in San Francisco, Calif. Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday, April 21, 2023, that the state highway patrol and state national guard will provide additional personnel and resources to help San Francisco battle its worsening fentanyl drug crisis. The announcement highlights a serious concern in the city where Newsom was once mayor. | Jessica Christian, San Francisco Chronicle via Associated Press
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“The fentanyl crisis is not a partisan issue,” Republican lawmakers wrote. “Regardless of our political differences, leaders in both parties believe action is needed now. Republicans and many Democrats in the Legislature want to see these proposals advance.”

The four bills would enhance sentencing and increase penalties for some dealers, including those with large quantities of fentanyl, and increase penalties for those who sell it on social media or possess it while carrying a loaded, operable firearm.

“You have shown a willingness to engage in the legislative process when it comes to pressing issues such as mental health, homelessness and climate policy,” Republicans wrote. “We are asking for this same level of engagement with the bipartisan effort to address California’s fentanyl crisis.”

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a free, confidential helpline that’s available 24/7 in English and Spanish at 1-800-622-HELP (4357).

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