In an effort to spread the word about the dangers of fentanyl, 15 families gathered last week in Brenham to discuss ways to tame the growing crisis.
Each family in attendance was part of a documentary series produced by Texas-Pictures. In less than a month, the series has gained 4.5 million views.
Texas-Pictures director Glen Mewes said that fentanyl poisoning is the leading cause of death in the United States among people aged 18 to 45.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 150 people die every day from overdoses associated with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. According to the CDC, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common overdose-causing drugs.
A press release launching Gov. Abbott’s “One Pill Kills” campaign across the state says nearly 1,700 Texans died last year due to fentanyl. The information in this release also states that fentanyl is the number one cause of death among Americans aged 18 to 45.
From February 2021 to February 2022, more than 75,000 Americans have died as a result of fentanyl-related overdose, according to the report.
Last year, Texas law enforcement alone seized more than 342 million lethal doses of fentanyl, enough to kill every man, woman and child in the United States, the report says.
The families decided to meet at Sealand’s Seafood and Steak in Brenham because it was a central location for most of the attendees. Families came from Austin, Johnson City, Kyle, Pflugerville, Pearland, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Mission, Adkins and Buda, the group said. Families from Washington County were not present.
They all had a similar experience of losing a loved one to fentanyl poisoning.
Governor Abbott announced new laws to be considered in the upcoming legislative session that would classify fentanyl as a poisoning, allow a person to be charged with murder if they distribute fentanyl or fentanyl-laced drugs that kill someone, and make NARCAN (a drug in a nasal spray designed to help reverse the effects of opioid overdoses) more readily available statewide to fentanyl-exposed Texans.
Information from the documentary showed that the victims present at the meeting usually fell in two ways. They buy opioid-labeled pills like Xanax or Percocet, but it’s almost exclusively fentanyl. Other victims claimed that doctors prescribed opiates for pain relief to loved ones. According to several families present, they find themselves addicted to the recipe, but are soon interrupted by the doctors, forcing the user to look for other options.
Ryan Malcolm, Faye Martin’s son, said that after an accident at work, a doctor prescribed him opiates, but his intake was interrupted. Martin said it was a five-year downward spiral in pain management after he went off medication.
“There is simply not enough information on fentanyl,” Faye Malcolm said. “I don’t know why every night they show the number of COVID deaths on the news. Why don’t they show the amount of fentanyl on the news every night?
“This fentanyl crisis is not only devastating us as parents, but society as a whole seems to be forgetting about what I call the “forgotten mourners”, that is, brothers and sisters.
“My daughter Shannon, now 32, has lost her little brother who was her best friend., Ryan, one day after his 29th birthday,” said Faye Malcolm. “The difference between them was only 18 months, and she is just devastated. People with good intentions will ask her, “How are your mom and dad?” For her, this is a painful and lonely feeling. As her mother, it pains me immensely not to be able to heal her pain and grieve with her.”
An example of falsely labeled drugs is Ryan Bagwell, who was 19 years old and poisoned by fentanyl after a trip across the border. His mother, Sandra Bagwell, said they lived on the Texas/Mexico border.
Ryan reportedly went with a friend to Mexico for the night and bought Percocet pills from a pharmacy.
“He came home that evening and said he had a great time,” Ryan’s mother, Sandra Bagwell, said. “He was going to go upstairs. He took (chicken) wings, which were his favorite food, and had dinner.”
Sandra Bagwell said she thought Percocet was labeled as a drug to help her son sleep. However, he never woke up.
“This pharmacy sold poison to my son,” she said. “The DEA took the pills and tested them. Of course, full fentanyl coated with aspirin.
Five times the lethal dose was found in Ryan’s system, the Drug Enforcement Administration said after testing the pills.
A study by Harvard Medical School found fentanyl to be 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin or morphine.
A Harvard study also found that fentanyl’s effectiveness also means it’s beneficial for dealers. Heroin is increasingly being mixed with fentanyl, so users of what they think are heroin may actually be getting mixed with fentanyl or even pure fentanyl. More recently, pills that look like the painkiller oxycodone or xanax are actually fentanyl.
Leslie Inman, who lost her 25-year-old daughter after taking lace-up Xanax, has declared fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.
“It’s not being seen as a problem, and that’s the problem,” Inman said. “The federal government should declare fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction. A very small amount can kill a lot of people.”
A potential “savior” that was repeatedly mentioned during the discussion was NARCAN. According to the company’s website, NARCAN is a potentially life-saving drug designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes.
Since most opioid overdoses happen at home, having a NARCAN rescue kit on hand can be crucial, according to NARCAN.
Fay Martin spoke about the importance of having NARCAN in the home.
“Parents should never think, ‘That’s not my baby,’ because all of us who have dead children have said the same thing,” she said. “Even if it’s not your child, it could be their friend or neighbor. It is always better to be active than reactive.”
Kim Gillihan, mother of Joshua Gillihan, who died of fentanyl poisoning at the age of 14, said NARCANA nasal spray alone was not enough. She said having three to four should be the minimum number in reserve.
An article created by Healthline, a health editorial website, states that NARCAN comes as a 4-milligram (mg) nasal spray. It comes in a box containing two nasal sprays. Each nasal spray contains one dose of 4 mg.
According to the article, the recommended first dose of NARCANA for people of all ages is one spray of 4 mg per nostril.
Whether to administer more doses depends on whether the victim responds and begins to breathe normally or not. Otherwise, another dose should be given two to three minutes after the first dose, the article says.
Doses of NARCANA should be given every two to three minutes until the victim is awake and breathing normally, or until paramedics arrive. Each dose should be administered alternately between the right and left nostrils, according to information from the Heathline states.
Healthline also states that NARCAN nasal sprays should not be reused after a single dose. Proper procedure requires the use of a new nasal spray for each dose.
The article states that there is no starting or maximum dose of NARCAN and states that a person can never get too much NARCAN.
Kim Gillihan also said that the White House should recognize the rise in fentanyl consumption as a crisis.
“I don’t know why we’re not holding press conferences from the White House, like we did with COVID-19, about the fentanyl crisis,” she said. “I don’t know why this situation isn’t talked about anymore. Everyone should understand that this could be your child.”
Ginger Treanor, a mother present who also lost a loved one to drugs, handed out bracelets during the meeting that read: “One pill kills, call 988 for help, Viloma…Jesus is alive.”
According to her, the word “viloma” is used to describe a person whose child has died.
“After the event, a woman speaking on behalf of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) said that they are working on a summit in San Antonio, like in Houston,” Treanor said. “Gov. (Greg) Abbott adopted my ‘One Pill Kills’ slogan for his new October campaign to fight our drug crisis. That’s why I print it on our signs and now on my bracelets. The next step is to advertise on our VIA (city transit based in San Antonio) buses. I will meet to complete it on the 24th. We are one step ahead in this fight to end drug use.”
According to DEA spokesperson Dr. Adrian Forte, at the meeting she offered continued support to families. Forte began hosting parenting classes in Houston and the San Antonio area. These sessions teach actions to take and offer partnerships with parents to raise parent awareness. She says high school is a high-risk time for students as they begin to experiment. Forte is also building a coalition called the “Coalition to End Fentanyl Poisoning and Opioid Overdose”.
Katrice Galloway lost her sister, Dr. Karen Jackson, and said that pride should not be a factor in dealing with such situations.
“We didn’t talk about it the way we should, out of pride,” Galloway said. “You have to put pride aside, you can’t be embarrassed, because it happens.”
Muse reflected on the importance of drawing attention to issues of this magnitude.
“These are such important stories,” Muse said. “So many people are unaware of the dangers of illegal fentanyl. These stories prove the fact that this poison can get into any family.
“We are very fortunate to be able to raise awareness through these short films. The family members who sat in front of our cameras and shared the most painful experiences of their lives are so brave to share their stories with us.
“The most important message of this ongoing series is that this poison can cause such a tragedy in any family,” he said. “The victims in the stories we have created range from high school students who are still too young to drive, to college professors and even priests.
“We are very lucky at Texas-Pictures to be able to share such important stories. If you have the ability and resources to do something useful, it’s a sin not to do it.”