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Going 360: Combatting use of Fentanyl among teens in Kansas City area

Going 360 - Fentanyl crisis
Posted at 7:00 PM, Sep 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 18:15:04-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A small amount of a deadly drug is causing big problems among teens and young adults in the Kansas City area.

In 2020, Missouri saw five overdose deaths a day. In Kansas, there were three every two days.

Many of those deaths involved using an extremely potent drug called fentanyl.

KSHB 41 News reporter Megan Abundis takes this story 360, providing multiple perspectives on what’s being done to fight fentanyl.

In this story we hear from:

  • Police chiefs from both sides of the state line
  • A drug processing specialist
  • A lawmaker
  • A school doctor
  • Newly drug-educated parents
  • A detective who’s working to make a change
  • Families who’ve lost teenagers

We all want to write our own destiny, but trace amounts of a deadly drug are erasing many futures.

Fentanyl is sweeping across the metro and has become a top priority by law enforcement.

“It doesn’t matter what zip code you live in, it’s here,” said Det. Michael Nelson with the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

Enough to fit on the tip of a pencil can be deadly.

“Two to three milligrams — it equates to a salt granule," Nelson said. "Extremely small amounts can be deadly."

More 18 to 45-year-olds died from fentanyl overdoses last year than COVID-19, gun violence and car crashes combined. This tasteless, odorless substance is the number one killer among young adults.

Grieving Families

Rebecca Everitt lost her son Taylor to a fentanyl overdose, and since then, she feels his absence every day.

“My soul had a hole ripped in it," she said. "It’s a constant hurt in your gut. He’s gone.”

Now Everitt urgently communicates to other parents the warning signs of teen drug use. To the naked eye, it's almost impossible to decipher regular opioid pills from ones made with fentanyl.

“You think, ‘I know what a fake pill would look like,’ and you don’t,” Everitt said.

The alarming issue is causing parents like Penny Thomas to pay attention. Her children are almost in high school, and she's concerned for their safety.

“You hear this, and you think it’s not going to happen to me or people I know," Thomas said. "It sounds like mistakes happen."

Sarah Manser is turning her son Ashton’s deadly mistake into a warning for Interstate 70 drivers to see. In August, Manser purchased a billboard with her son's picture to warn others.

“I want no other family member to go through what I went through, “ Manser said. “He was kind. He called me 'Mama.' I miss that."

The display calls the fentanyl outbreak the "other pandemic." Underneath his photo, the text reads, "In memory of my dear son." Manser hopes the sentiment will put parents on alert and cause users to reconsider taking pills that aren't prescribed to them.

“If I can even stop one person from overdosing, I will,” she said.

Law Enforcement

The Clay County Sheriff's Office and the Excelsior Springs Police Department team up to search for fentanyl.

Detective Nelson runs the county’s drug enforcement program.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 24 years. Ever," Nelson said. "That’s the hard part. I hate to say it’s almost triage. That’s what we are dealing with now."

KSHB 41 was there after they made eight arrests in one day.

Excelsior Springs Police Chief Greg Dull worries that drug dealers are changing their tactics.

“They are even packaging it in colored pills, presumably to make it more attractive to a younger and younger group," he said. "A teenager would think it’s one thing, take it and accidentally overdose."

An investigations support specialist with the department, Andy Warner, gets a firsthand look at fentanyl.

“This is something we are trying to get off the streets as quickly as we can,” Warner said. "Even one [pill] is a lethal amount.”

Stressing the importance of preventing use, Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department Chief Karl Oakman calls fentanyl a "health crisis and epidemic."

“I think people should be very, very concerned,” Oakman said.

Lawmaker

Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall is working to limit overdoses.

“I’m doing what we can to make sure we get Narcan into all of the school systems,” Marshall said.

The U.S. Department of Health And Human Services said the number of prescriptions for Narcan has doubled in recent years.

Schools

Narcan was key at Kearney High School last year.

A school nurse on Dr. Heather Guilkey’s team used Narcan to save a student.

“The individual was in class and literally fell out. The teacher immediately knew something wasn’t right,” Guilkey said.

School administrators are increasing the supply of Narcan in schools across the district.

“We would have lost one of our students,” Guilkey said. “If we can make the difference even for one, then it’s worth the effort.”

Last year at Oak Park High School, sophomore Ethan Everly died after taking a pill laced with fentanyl. 

“He was a leader in our friend group. He always pushed us to do better, he wanted us to succeed and do good in life,” said Jaden Taylor, Ethan’s friend.

Vigils and stories like such above are causing many people to draw the line against fentanyl.

As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we've excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at 360@kshb.com.