DEA chooses KCK as one of 11 cities to begin operation educating people about Fentanyl overdoses

Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 10:12 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KCTV) - A DEA campaign intended to decrease overdose deaths from counterfeit fentanyl pills has arrived in Kansas City, Kansas.

It’s one of just 11 cities nationwide where the federal Drug Enforcement Agency is conducting community panel discussions. The first in KCK happened Tuesday night at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College.

Sobering data about fentanyl poisoning nationwide shows that, in 2020 and 2021, it was the leading cause of death for people aged 18 to 45. In 2021, it killed nearly twice as many people in that age group as car wrecks, according to an independent analysis of CDC data performed by the myth-busting website Snopes.com.

That’s why the DEA in March of last year began something called “Operation Engage.” It’s meant to engage people in an effort to save lives.

Tuesday night’s panel included experts in law enforcement, emergency medicine and drug counseling, but the most emotional panelist was Libby Davis, a Shawnee mom whose 16-year-old son, Cooper, died from Fentanyl poisoning last summer.

“Cooper was a fun kid. So much fun to be around,” she said to the audience after a long pause and as her voice cracked.

She said he met up with three friends in August to split two pills pressed to look like 30 mg of Oxycodone. Each of them took half a pill. He died. The other three did not. She described her son to the audience in a way that hit home to some.

“Strong willed, hard-headed and a risk taker. Does this sound familiar to any of you?” she asked.

People nodded their heads. A few responded, “Yup.”

“Cooper also thought he was invincible,” Davis continued.

The rise in counterfeit pills and overdoses has been sharp in recent years.

“Fentanyl is killing more Americans than any other illicit drug,” said Rogeana Patterson-King, DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the State of Kansas.

The bulk of recent seizures, she and others on the panel said, are blue pills marked M30, made to look like Oxy. They noted they’ve also found fentanyl in numerous other counterfeit look-alike pills like Percocet, Xanax and Adderall.

Several presenters noted that it’s not uncommon for different pills in the same batch – or even each half of a single pill – to have different quantities of fentanyl. Patterson-King described the way they mix chemicals in a batch as not unlike making a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You stir and stir to get the distribution even, but you always end up with some cookies that only have a handful of chips and some loaded with them.

An EMT with the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department said it’s not just teens they are treating for overdose.

“If you don’t think an 8-year-old can get a hold of a Perc 30, it’s happening in our city,” said EMT Josh Megaha.

That’s alarming, but it’s not the whole picture and not the bulk of the overall overdoses KCK police say they see.

“It’s adult children is what I call them, above the age of 18 but they’re children to some parent,” said Capt. John Diaz with the KCKPD’s narcotics unit.

Megaha has spent years training first responders on the use of Narcan, an antidote to some overdoses. It’s available at pharmacies. He suggested people get some and don’t be afraid to administer it.

“It was a myth that if you touched it, you would instantly pass out,” said Megaha of a message he’s had to hammer home with EMTs and paramedics.

That said, he and Battalion Chief Chance Grey said with fentanyl it will often take four to five doses to be effective, whereas administering for other types of opioid overdoes in the past took only half to one dose.

Patterson-King said the old phrase about a war on drugs is no longer valid. The DEA aims to target manufacturers and distributors to seize the substances and keep them out of the supply stream, but that’s not their only focus.

“We can’t enforce our way out of it. We need the community to come along and have these conversations to talk to young people to talk to our youth about the dangers of these pills,” she said.

One woman in the audience expressed frustration that only about 30 people came to the panel discussion, a sign, she said, that ordinary people are not very engaged.

Tuesday night’s event was just the first of several planned.