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Teen fentanyl use, deaths on the rise


Last Friday a Pettis County sheriff pulled over a car carrying over 800 fake Percocet pills made from fentanyl. 

The driver was a 17-year-old from Columbia who was carrying two passengers, Ross Kellerman, 23, of Independence, and Danielle K. Norman, 25, of Marshall. A search uncovered 803 counterfeit Percocet pills that tested positive for fentanyl, according to the Pettis County Sheriff's Office. 

According to Sheriff Brad Anders, more pills were found on Norman at the jail. 

The arrest highlights a larger problem of opioids across the county. 

A 2022 report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services revealed that Missouri had 1,878 fatal drug overdoses in 2020. It was a 19% increase from 2019 and the highest total in the state to date. 

Opioid overdoses account for 70% of deaths of adults aged 18-44 in Missouri, which is the leading cause of death in the state. 

Fentanyl is commonly mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and made into pills that are made to resemble other prescription opioids. Mixing fentanyl in these drugs increases the high, making them cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous.

Fentanyl is our greatest drug threat in Missouri and in the United States,” Michael Davis the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s St Louis division told ABC 17. “In 2022 we had approximately twenty-two hundred overdose deaths in the state of Missouri.” 

Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study posted in December on the CDC website says teen drug overdose deaths have increased over the last few years. Teen fentanyl deaths went up 182%.

“You no longer have to go the bad neighborhood to get your drugs these days, Davis says. “I mean you can get on certain social media sites and order your drugs and you can meet that drug dealer on such and such intersection."

Another study from the Associated Press found that only 1 in 4 residential treatment centers for teens offers a recommended medicine for opioid addiction. Of 160 facilities with care for teens, just 39 provided the treatment medication known as buprenorphine.

Victims are unable to know if a drug contains deadly levels of fentanyl because they are unable to see it, taste it, or smell it.  

According to the CDC, there are two types of fentanyl, pharmaceutical and illicitly manufactured. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is commonly prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain. 

“It’s used in the treatment of acute pain, so for example, if you come to the emergency department and break a bone, you’re having severe abdominal pain, other conditions like that you use fentanyl, Dr. Christopher Sampson, a MU Health Care Emergency Department Physician told ABC 17. 

“It's also used in the treatment of chronic and longer-term pain, so patients that have cancer.”

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is made in a controlled setting so the dosage is monitored. Unfortunately, sometimes patients can still get addicted

“There have been many instances where those individuals have gotten hooked and unfortunately it has led to those individuals looking for the street drugs,” Davis said.

Many people who take illicitly manufactured fentanyl do not even realize it's mixed in the pill they are taking because it is disguised to resemble other opioids. The fake Percocet pills found near Sendalia are an example of this.

"If you don't know where that pill came from or the illicit drug came from, the bottom line is don't use it," Davis advised. "Don't utilize any illicit drugs but as far as the pills, especially these fake pills, they look just like real pills. But if you don't know the origin do not utilize them because you will be gambling with your life and it only takes one time."

Dr. Sampson added, "Anyone who is using narcotics either in a prescription setting or even in an illegal setting, recreationally, it's always good to have Narcan or naloxone nearby.

"Given its availability over the counter now and its ease to use, it's just a very simple, easy thing to have at home or wherever you are. Because that's a life-saving medication and can stop the effects of fentanyl that can potentially lead to death."

Article Topic Follows: Drugs

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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