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Kansas City mayor announces efforts to fight fentanyl, pledges to include impacted families in discussion

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Posted at 6:07 PM, Nov 09, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mayor Quinton Lucas announced multiple efforts to fight against fentanyl this week, including a public education campaign and a summit.

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An ordinance he first introduced at the Finance, Governance and Public Safety committee meeting on Wednesday was also passed by the full council Thursday afternoon.

The ordinance asked for three things:

  • Making it mandatory to report all fatal and non-fatal fentanyl overdoses
  • Creating an overdose fatality review board
  • Hiring two new investigators to the health department for fentanyl tracing

Hours before the regular city council meeting on Thursday, Mayor Lucas also called a press conference to announce two new initiatives: a fentanyl public education campaign and a summit.

The goal of the initiatives is to prevent future fentanyl overdoses through knowledge. The campaign will focus on raising awareness around how dangerous fentanyl is and also educate the public on life-saving measures such as the use of Narcan, a nasal spray used to treat narcotic overdoses.

Lucas said the campaign will launch early next year, in partnership with KCPD, the Health Department and a local advertising agency called Barkley. In the coming months, Kansas Citians can expect to see messaging on billboards, television ads and RideKC.

The summit will be held before the end of the year for intentional and timely discussions on the crisis.

“Our goal with the fentanyl summit itself is to say that this is an issue that extends beyond just a Kansas City city hall answer," Lucas said. "And it is to create a forum and an opportunity to say this is something touching everyone."

The city confirmed that families and victims personally impacted by fentanyl will have a seat at the summit. Surviving families members have often shared they want to be a part of the conversation, as they understand the impact better than anyone.

“I’m not saying my son was perfect or anything, but he’s a good boy and he was on the right track,” said Shannon Earnshaw.

Earnshaw says her 25-year-old son Shawn Dewey had a job, a serious girlfriend and goals for the future. She saw them written out in a notebook after his death.

According to Earnshaw, her son had a years-long battle with insomnia. After a particularly restless week, Dewey bought what he thought was Xanax from a person he knew.

“Yes, he did go get a pill off the streets, he shouldn’t have done that, I get that," Earnshaw said. "But he wasn’t going looking for fentanyl, so he was poisoned."

Now, her family is morning the loss of not one, but two of their own. Last year — not seven months apart — fentanyl took the lives of both her son and niece.

Her niece, Kaitlin Kennedy, was turned away from a rehabilitation center a month before her death because she did not have insurance.

Over the last year, Earnshaw channeled her pain into activism. She reconnected with Amber Saale-Burger, her childhood friend who also lost her kid to fentanyl poisoning, and started a Facebook group called “Kansas Families Fighting Fentanyl.”

“We’re almost up to 300 members,” Earnshaw said.

The founders are working with elected officials to change laws as well. For example, they are hoping next of kin in murder cases can have full legal access to the victim's phone. No one was held accountable in her son’s case because police could not crack into his phone for evidence.

Another law they are trying to update is the Good Samaritan Law. Currently, it protects medical professionals from any liability if they try to help someone in good faith outside of a healthcare setting. The hope is, by adding fentanyl overdose cases to this, it will encourage people to call 911 without the fear of legal responsibility themselves.

“It doesn’t go away, but it makes it easier, and I feel like I'm doing something, and I’m keeping my child’s voice alive even though he’s not here anymore,” Earnshaw said.

Earnshaw believes change comes at a grassroots level. It starts with family, friends and local elected-officials.

She hopes more cities will see the current efforts in Kansas City, Missouri and follow-suit.

“I love anything and everything that they’re trying to do to fight this because I don’t think this is gonna go away anytime soon,” Earnshaw said.