Recently, a local news outlet reported that local officials are seeing an increase in the illicit use of fentanyl and its role in criminal activity, overdose, and death.
Unfortunately, this is not “news” per se, as fentanyl has been contributing to the detriment of our community for years.
In my practice, I have the unspeakable honor of walking alongside people who grieve the death of loved ones, often children — teenaged and adult children — who have died as a result of obtaining pain pills, often from trusted sources such as a friends, that have been adulterated (or “laced”) with fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic drug that is similar to morphine and heroin but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is prescribed for post-surgical pain and palliative care by pain management specialists to some who live with or are dying in chronic pain.
When managed responsibly by a physician, the drug can bring relief.
However, as with most things, illicit use is another matter.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), every day more than 120 Americans fatally overdose on an opioid drug. It may be a prescription analgesic or heroin — nearly 8% of people who misuse painkillers transition to heroin — but increasingly it is likely to be heroin’s much more potent synthetic cousin, fentanyl.
In the space of only a few years, fentanyl has tragically escalated the opioid crisis. The NIDA reports that this drug’s potency owes to its ability to enter the brain especially quickly because of its “high fat solubility.”
Just 2 milligrams can kill a person. To help clarify how little that is, 2 milligrams is comparable in size to the date on a penny, which is a mind-bogglingly tiny amount of something that can be fatal to a full-grown adult. Its potency is creating occupational hazards for emergency personnel, who, if they touch or breathe it, may be put in life-threatening danger.
Tragically, many people addicted to opioids, or those who are experimenting with or recreationally using illicit drugs obtained by dealers or trusted friends, are accidentally being poisoned by fentanyl-laced products and are dying.
The aforementioned report discussed the uptick in fentanyl-related crimes and deaths in our area; the presumed origin of the drug (Mexican cartels); the adulteration of other illicit drugs with fentanyl; and the use of Narcan to reverse an imminent overdose, when possible. What the article does not describe is what our local and state law enforcement agencies, city and county commissions, prosecutors and judicial complex is currently doing about it.
I am aware of more than a few families who have experienced the tragedy of the accidental death of a loved one (almost always very young) as a result of fentanyladulterated drug use, and I’m certain they believe they have been left alone to struggle with their grief in a community where there is no justice for those who killed by fentanyl.
I can say, given my work with more than a few families who have experienced the tragedy of the accidental death of a loved one (almost always very young) as a result of fentanyl-adulterated drug use, that they believe they have been left alone to struggle with their grief, and that they believe there is no justice for those who were killed by fentanyl.
As a transplanted resident who was not born and raised in Owensboro, I have heard so many times that Owensboro is a great place to raise a family. And, although I am not sure that is as true for some as it is for others, I can say that, so far, it has been true for us and our family.
However, we have not lost a child to a tragic fentanyl-related death. But many others have.
I support, honor, believe in, and trust our law enforcement, local elected leaders and judicial system. I have, to date, no reason not to. But I serve people who do not because they do not feel protected, served or heard.
On their behalf, with humility, confidence, and hope, I call upon our city and county commissioners, our county and state prosecutors, our drug court judges, and our police and sheriff departments to raise the bar, to ignite a fire, to consider the facts, raise the money, hire the personnel, create a working task force, and comb the streets — often the ones no one would ever guess could play host to the trafficking of illicit drugs, such as fentanyl-laced products — in order to surveil, investigate, arrest, charge, and imprison transporters, dealers, and so-called “friends” who are passing to our children fentanyl-laced drugs in our driveways.
The political pressure not to investigate certain people is no match for a community that rises up and pleads for justice from those elected and appointed to distribute it.
If the numbers aren’t lying — and we know they never do — then know this: using mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System, NIDA reports that involvement of fentanyl in opioid overdose deaths rose from 14.3% in 2010 to 46% in 2016. That is nearly half of opioid-related overdoses. Fentanyl is now involved in more deaths than prescription opioids. And the numbers continue to rise.
If it were my child — or yours — I think we would not be content to sit idly by, hear that fentanyl is filling our community, and ask for nothing to be done.
We would be horrified, angry, and life-alteringly resolved to do something about it.
Join me in calling on our law enforcement, prosecution and judicial officials to please, please create and implement a plan that makes Owensboro the very least-likely place in the country to inhabit traffickers of fentanyl-laced illicit drugs because of our absolute resolve to sniff out, prosecute and imprison those who would destroy our families, murder our children and desecrate our belief that Owensboro is a great place to raise — and keep alive — a family.