Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the percent change of fentanyl deaths from 2020 to 2021. The actual percent increase is 84 percent and the story has been corrected. We apologize for the error.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry was in KGET’s studios Wednesday renewing the warnings we’ve been hearing about the deadly illicit opioid fentanyl. Have we been heeding those warnings? The numbers say no, not nearly enough.

But then addiction is a powerful thing. It must be. How else do we explain the killer in our midst that – despite persistently dire warnings – ended more lives in 2021 than a typical year’s worth of automobile accidents or homicides?

Fentanyl, turning up as a street substitute for heroin, oxycodone, Xanax and other drugs, tore apart 201 families last year  – that we know of. The total is almost surely higher.

The Kern County Coroner’s office reports that as of Nov. 16, the confirmed number of deaths from fentanyl, alone or in combination with other drugs, is, as we’ve said, 201. 

That puts Kern County on track for a final 2021 total of 230 — which would be an 84 percent increase over 2020’s total of 125. An undisclosed number of 2021 deaths remain under investigation as to specific cause but are considered possible or likely fentanyl poisonings.

Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry says the problem is not going away – in part because casual drug users don’t always know what they’re taking.

“Many of the people that are coming in contact with it and ingesting it aren’t doing it knowingly,” he said. “It’s being put into other drugs. There are some that have addiction issues and are using it. And then we are also seeing an influx of it into our community as well. And we have done several investigations with some federal partners just this last year where there were some significant seizures of fentanyl in our community. It is certainly something that is here and it is very deadly. “

Fentanyl is turning up in pills disguised as pharmaceutical painkillers, in cocaine, in meth, in Ecstasy – and it’s killing people.

Don’t take the police chief’s word for it.  Keir Butterworth and her husband Brian lost their daughter Heather to fentanyl poisoning last May, so they can vouch. Heather, like many, ingested fentanyl in its pill form by heating it and inhaling the vapor.

“She had a pill and smoked not even a quarter of the pill, so she was dead instantly,” the mother said. “So, this is Heather … but there are so many …. parents … who lost someone.

What’s a concerned parent to do? 

“Be aware,” Chief Terry said. “Educate yourself and educate your family.”

If you would like to know more about the drug fentanyl, its potential to devastate lives, and what you can do about it, we urge you to go to our website for Robert Price’s award-winning special report, “Fentanyl: the Counterfeit Killer.”