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Murder charge announced in fentanyl drug overdose case

We’re learning more about how the county is cracking down on the rising issue of overdose deaths linked to fentanyl.

News Channel 3’s Caitlin Thropay was in Riverside on Monday morning as the district attorney announced the first-ever murder charge in a fentanyl drug overdose case.

“Angel was a very good kid, finishing school and it’s just this stuff needs to stop," Angel Vazquez's father, Eduardo Vazquez told News Channel 3 while holding back tears.

It was an emotional day for the family of Angel Vazquez who lost his life at 18 after purchasing drugs laced with fentanyl.

“What we’re facing here is a life and death situation for too many of our residents in Riverside County,” Riverside County district attorney Mike Hestrin told News Channel 3.

Hestrin announced a second-degree murder charge for Joseph Costanza who allegedly sold the drugs to Vazquez.

“Every death caused by fentanyl toxicity is being investigated as a potential homicide,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said.

Riverside County is working to crack down on cases like this.

“The best analogy is DUI for the laws that we need," Hestrin said. "Senator Melissa Melendez has introduced a senate bill SB350 which would help us in making sure that people who are convicted of trafficking fentanyl would have that admonishment and have that document that they understand the risks," he said.

Learn more about SB350 here: https://kesq.com/news/cv-questions-answered/2021/02/15/state-senator-melissa-melendez-discusses-a-bill-she-introduced-to-crack-down-on-drug-dealers/

In the past two weeks, task forces in Riverside County pulled three kilos of raw fentanyl off the streets.

“If you’re not getting them from the doctor assume there’s fentanyl in them," Hestrin said.

Hestrin also shared this is a broad issue but we’re tending to see it in the youth.

“For example getting drugs off Snapchat or other social media and they’re arranging these drug transactions online and what’s being offered and sold are Percocet or M30s and those are basically prescription drugs and so somebody is trying to get Percocet but what they don’t realize is that it’s not Percocet," he said. "It’s fake Percocet with fentanyl in it,” he added.

Jerry Yang, assistant United States attorney is working in Riverside County to combat this problem.

“These cases send an important message to drug dealers who face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison if one of their customers dies of an overdose,” Yang said.

“These pills are no good," Margie Escandon, Angel's grandmother said. "You can lose your life over this," she added.

In 2016, there were only two deaths related to fentanyl in Riverside County. Last year, we had 227 fentanyl-related deaths in the county.

“We are going to do everything we can to protect people in this county and make sure we get the word out about the dangers of fentanyl,” Hestrin said.

Read Article: I-Team: Cheaper and more potent meth leads to more trafficking and abuse in Coachella Valley

For help with drug addictions visit these resources here:

https://www.rcdmh.org/Substance-Use-Services

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Caitlin Thropay

Caitlin Thropay is the Weekend Morning Anchor and Lifestyle Reporter for KESQ News Channel 3, The Desert’s News Leader. Learn more about Caitlin here.

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