Kentucky ranks among the top five states nationwide in drug overdose deaths since 2017, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Lyon County Sheriff Brent White sees that as a major problem now affecting the region.
“The Office of Drug Control Policy reports that in 2016-17, we started seeing carfentanil in Kentucky,” he said. “We, in Lyon County, have not seen fentanyl impact us until this last year. We saw four suspicious deaths — two of which were confirmed to be associated with fentanyl. Two of them were methamphetamine overdoses.”
White explained that the increased death rate started in northern Kentucky, but since has spread. He points to evidence that drug dealers are making fentanyl a component in various street drugs. At the same time, drug cartels that operate in rural areas of the U.S. are pushing drugs containing fentanyl as a way to keep people addicted.
“That’s nothing but greed,” he said. “The problem is that fentanyl is so toxic that a small amount — like dropping a few granular amounts of salt on a table — if that were fentanyl, that might be all that’s needed to kill one person, but not another. It might take a few more doses to kill another person.”
There’s no way to know whether fentanyl has been added to pills or other drugs bought off the street. “The drug cartels don’t care about a person; they want to keep a person as addicted and as high as they can, so that person will come back for more,” the sheriff said. “Your life is in someone else’s hands in that situation and that person might be in China, Mexico, Texas, Georgia, or Nashville, Tennessee. If you don’t know where that drug came from, you do not need to ingest it into your body.”
Some people purposely will buy fentanyl to use as a recreational drug in and of itself. They’ll mix it with food products or introduce it into the body in other ways. White said, “Where we’re seeing the overdose deaths here and in other parts of Kentucky, it’s being disguised as a legitimate Xanax or Percocet.”
Sheriff White says another associated problem is the human body generally builds up a tolerance the longer a person takes a particular drug. So, many people continuously take more to the point that it becomes especially dangerous. Getting too much fentanyl into a person’s body can lead to shutting down the respiratory system.
Much of what is happening in the United States today is changing rapidly concerning drugs, especially synthetic drugs. White said, “The simple fact is that it’s easier now to make drugs than it’s ever been before.
“You really don’t know what’s in a lot of these substances,” he continued. “They can counterfeit a substance and make it look just like something you would get in a pharmacy that’s licensed and legitimate, but it’s not. Chemically speaking, many drugs can be fatal or they can shut down bodily organs. Many can cause irreparable and irreversible damage to other parts of the body.”
Another cause for concern on this topic, White said, is that even younger people in the community get hooked on a substance by taking it out of a medicine cabinet of an adult at home. Later, they go out on the street to buy that substance, and — unfortunately — overdose on it.
“We had some younger folks in an adjoining community not too long ago, who overdosed,” White noted. “We believe that was from street sales of counterfeit substances. It’s very dangerous. It’s something that can kill you, but it also is something that can harm your health for a long time.”
Xanax and Percocet are popular drugs of abuse in Kentucky. Lortab and Hydrocodone are medicinal drugs that often are diverted by illegal means, according to White. “Often, somebody will get a legitimate prescription and decide they don’t need all of it, so they sell the rest,” the sheriff explained.
“Somebody buys those or finds them in a medicine cabinet at home and steals those from that family member to support a habit,” he said. “Then, when they can’t get those pills anymore, they start self-medicating on something else — whether it be an illicit substance or another substance that ends up being counterfeit.”
In buying pills illegally over the internet, chances are those pills have fentanyl in them and whomever takes them is risking his or her life by ingesting them. White said if a pill looks suspicious — maybe the numbers imprinted on it don’t look right or it doesn’t look professional — it’s probably a counterfeit substance that could lead to overdose or death.
“We had an overdose at the Kentucky State Penitentiary just last week,” the sheriff said. “We have overdoses in our community often. Unfortunately, many times it’s someone who has gotten hooked on a substance and then they start self-medicating with whatever other substance they can get.”
Synthetic drugs and opiates, some of which are counterfeit — like fentanyl and methamphetamine — continue to be problems in western Kentucky. Fentanyl is quite potent and powerful. Carfentanil actually is used as a tranquilizer for large animals, such as elephants. It can kill a human.
“Drug dealers use fentanyl to get people addicted to that substance and have them crave it more and more,” White concluded. “Methamphetamine apparently is really addictive, but fentanyl can be even more addictive since it causes the brain to desire that substance more than anything else.”