Today's Russian Roulette

Today's Russian Roulette

If you’re putting a needle in your arm, you’re playing Russian roulette,” Dr. Eric Guerrant, an emergency department medical director at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville recently told reporters. “If you’re taking carfentanil, it’s like you’re putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger.”

When carfentanil became a common news topic last summer and the media began reporting its use as an elephant tranquilizer, even a lay person can understand that a drug intended to take down one of nature’s largest mammals can be deadly to people. Kentucky’s northern neighbor, Hamilton County — which includes the Greater Cincinnati area — reported in September that emergency workers had handled more than 1,000 overdose cases in two short months. 

Jefferson County’s coroner reported in August that the metro area had more than two dozen overdoses in one day this summer including Heroin and other unknown mixtures. The Madison County Appalachian High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force successfully prosecuted a case recently that took down a drug-trafficking organization whose members were convicted of selling upwards of 1,000 grams of heroin and 50 grams of fentanyl.

SWAT officers in Connecticut reported becoming ill after a flash-bang tossed into an alleged stash house sent powdered fentanyl and heroin into the air, making officers dizzy, nauseated and vomit.

Of course, these are just a handful of cases. The problem spreads much further across Kentucky and far outside our borders. But all this begs the question, why are we seeing these drugs so prominently now, and why are they so much more deadly?

“We are just beginning to see carfentanil, and we don’t know how it’s going to develop,” said U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, Eastern District of Kentucky. “We are seeing fentanyl show up in large quantities because it is much more profitable for drug trafficking organizations. It is more potent, so to some extent, that is a marketing tool.

“It also is a synthetic opioid, so it can be manufactured in a clandestine lab,” Harvey continued. “People pushing it into the country don’t have to wait for poppies to grow. They can manufacture it when it’s needed, in the quantity that’s needed. While it is exponentially more profitable, we also know that fentanyl is a killer – which again tells you the nature of what we’re up against.”

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin.
— United States DEA

Versailles Police Detective Keith Ford said fentanyl is in high demand because many addicts generally transition from pills to heroin. But as their tolerance level increases, they no longer can get that original high. They are constantly taking more to maintain a level of health and not experience withdrawal, but often the high is gone. With fentanyl, Ford said long-term addicts are reaching that high once again.

“I don’t want to meet the person who develops a tolerance for fentanyl,” Ford said. “The demand for it is very strong.”

One of the greatest problems, though, is that many drug traffickers are mixing these drugs together. So an addict may buy their regular amount of heroin one day and be fine, but the next time, it’s a lethal dose because it has been mixed with fentanyl, carfentanil or any number of things.

“It could be coffee creamer,” Ford said. “It could be heroin; it could be rat poisoning. Nobody really knows what they are getting folded up in a piece of paper.”

That is why Harvey is so passionate about working together with first responders to prosecute traffickers whose activities are leading to the destruction of lives and families.

“I don’t want to be too dramatic about it, but I think about these two potentially-different outcomes,” he said. “I think about some young person who overdoses on a heroin/fentanyl mixture, and we show up the way we used to at a scene with ambulances, the coroner says it’s an accidental death, and they take that body to the funeral home. Law enforcement is never involved, there is never any prosecution. That drug dealer in that community has a batch of dope that is deadly, and the next day and the day after that continues selling this deadly dope to more kids in the community.

“On the other hand,” Harvey continued, “we treat these overdoses as crime scenes, we get the good police work we have had from cases, pick up a cell phone, see the text messages, gather paraphernalia, interview the family and, the next day, that batch of bad dope is off the street. People who are in the community are alive who otherwise would be dead. 

“We can talk about sentences and police work and all the rest, but that’s the bottom line — people are alive and still with their families,” Harvey concluded. “They have a chance to beat their addiction. This provides hope.”

Survivor Story:  Jennifer Powell

Survivor Story: Jennifer Powell

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