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Fentanyl-laced drugs driving surge in overdose deaths, experts say

justin and megan evans overdose
Posted at 6:02 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 19:02:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Every week, Justin Evans explores the world of true crime through his podcast, Generation Why.

When discussing the circumstances of each case, he tries to incorporate information about mental health and addiction. They're topics that hit close to home. His sister, Megan, dealt with those battles for most of her life.

Then, on April 8, he got a phone call.

"My mother called me and told me my sister was dead," Evans said.

She'd died of a heroin overdose, but the autopsy revealed another ingredient.

"I finally got my sister's autopsy report back and it showed Fentanyl," Evans said. "I don't think she stood a chance."

Justin said he believes his sister didn't know the drugs contained Fentanyl. It's a scenario that's becoming increasingly common.

Doctors at the opioid treatment program at the University of Kansas Health System have seen an influx of patients in the past year. Dr. Roopa Sethi, the director of the program, said the majority of patients report getting opioids illegally, often in the form of a pill called "M 30."

It's an Oxycodone tablet, but it's mixed with Fentanyl. Dr. Sethi said some patients know it contains Fentanyl, but many do not — and that can be lethal.

"If a patient takes it and has never been exposed to an opiate before, that means that they have taken something that's 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and [they] can have a potential for an overdose," Sethi said.

In 2020, more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses, according to new provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a 29.4% increase over 2019. In Missouri, deadly overdoses increased by 19.8% and in Kansas, they increased by 23.9%.

Experts say the increase in drugs laced with Fentanyl, combined with the stress of the pandemic, drove the surge in overdose deaths.

Evans said he thinks the pandemic may have contributed to his sister's death, as well.

"I think the pandemic absolutely impacted everybody's mental state, amplified all of our problems and limited people's opportunities to find work, to get out and to find alternatives [rather] than to just use again," Evans said.

If there's any lesson to be learned from tragedy, Evans said he hopes the world can find more compassion for those struggling.

"I think people think addiction is just something that someone chooses to do. I don't think they ever consider their background, how they got to the point they're at," Evans said.​ "I just think you should come with empathy and not judgment because it affects everybody."

If you or someone you know needs help, there are several resources available.

  • Call the University of Kansas Health System opioid treatment program at 913-588-1227, or visit its website.
  • First Call Kansas City has program for people who are addicted, as well as programs to help their loved ones cope. Call them at 816-361-5900 or visit its website.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a national helpline to direct people to local resources: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It also has an online search tool to help people locate resources near them.