3 On Your Side Investigation: The Pain of Fentanyl
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - We’ve seen the stories of celebrities losing their lives to opioid abuse: Michael Jackson, Prince and the list goes on.
But it’s not limited to celebrities. In March, five West Point cadets overdosed on fentanyl during spring break in Fort Lauderdale. Four were hospitalized.
Now, the fentanyl problem is taking Mississippi by storm. A Madison mother knows this all too well and we hear from her in a 3 On Your Side Investigation: The Pain of Fentanyl.
“One of the things that I’ve learned through this experience is that I truly never saw it coming.”
The Madison mother we interviewed didn’t want us to show her face or use her name, so we are calling her “Jane.”
She told 3 On Your Side that she has always been deeply involved in her children’s lives, but was blind-sided by what happened to her son in January. He and two of his Madison Central High School friends traveled to Jackson to buy drugs.
Jane said, ”it was fentanyl.”
Jane said the response to what her son and his two friends ingested that day was not good. One of his friends technically died, but was brought back with Narcan.
“And my son spent the night in the hospital. And he was given Narcan. And that was not a great experience. But it saved him. Praise God,” said Jane.
Jane’s son and his friends are the lucky ones. Plainly stated, fentanyl, a drug for pain, can and does kill if not used properly.
Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director Steven Maxwell said, ”So fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.”
Which means, said Maxwell, an amount as tiny as grains of sugar could end your life. On the streets these days, Maxwell said you never know what’s been laced with Fentanyl or how much of the drug is in it.
“One might think that he or she is buying cocaine, but they’re actually buying fentanyl or cocaine laced with fentanyl. A person may think they’re just buying marijuana. In today’s drug culture, there’s not just marijuana, it potentially and more than likely can be marijuana laced with fentanyl,” said Maxwell.
Just how deadly has fentanyl been in Mississippi in recent years?
In a memo from Captain Will Peterson to Director Maxwell, these are the numbers gathered from coroners around the state when it comes to overdose deaths involving fentanyl as of January 2022.
In 2019, 110 of the reported 388 overdose deaths listed fentanyl as being involved. The following year, 260 of the 529 overdose deaths listed fentanyl as being involved and in 2021, 207 of the reported 416 overdose deaths listed fentanyl as being involved.
MBN Director Steven Maxwell said, ”The drug culture that we’re experiencing today is not the same as what it was five years ago, 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, and it won’t be the same next year.”
“And this drug fentanyl has really permeated it. And because it can be produced in such a very cheap fashion, but yet the profit margin is exponentially high because of that,” continued Maxwell.
So, where did Jane’s son and his friends go in Jackson to score fentanyl?
Jane said the Studio 7 Hotel, off I-55 Frontage Road just past County Line.
And Jane told me that she is certain law enforcement authorities are aware of what’s going on at Studio 7.
Jane said, “I know that they know that’s where it was happening because of my son’s incident and his friend that died. I know that they know that that’s where it’s happening.”
In fact, they do know.
Deputy Chris Picou said, ”Every time I think I’ve seen the worst, something else comes along. And now it’s fentanyl.”
Picou has dealt with the illegal narcotics trade for decades in the Jackson metro area. He now works for both Madison and Rankin County. He says he is familiar with Studio 7.
“But we have along this corridor like we talked about these hotels, we have gotten the information. And we have gotten with JPD and started to work on some cases with them,” said Deputy Picou.
Picou continued, ”I’ve been around a long time and I have a good relationship with the chief, have a good relationship with the sheriff. And so, you know, those relationships really help whenever we we want to get into these areas and try to do something about it.”
But, Deputy Picou said the drug dealing is not limited to any one hotel.
“Absolutely. So if we start to put pressure on them in any hotel, they’ll move to another one,” said Picou.
The owner of Studio 7 is listed as Anilkumar Patel and Sahil, LLC. We reached out to Patel in phone calls and emails for comment, but we have not received a response.
In February 2021, Madison police arrested Carlos Allen of Jackson for sale and trafficking of fentanyl. He was not arrested at the hotel; instead, he went to Madison to sell to what turned out to be an undercover officer.
Deputy Chris Picou said, ”The thing that’s so scary about him is when he did, and this came out in court, when he sold to the undercover, he warned him, you know, this stuff has people flopping. So, even knowing that, he was still selling these things.”
Allen has now been convicted. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 28. Jane told me she is certain Allen has sold to her son.
I asked Deputy Chris Picou if he would consider fentanyl a crisis now?
“Oh, absolutely. You know, we have kids that are dying. But, you know, we’ve got too many young people now, whether it’s by bullets, whether it’s by fentanyl, it’s a crisis.” Picou replied.
Jane told me she is not experiencing this alone. She said other moms in the Madison area have reached out to her with similar stories involving their children and fentanyl.
She said her son is now doing well in rehab and while she didn’t want her identity revealed, Jane told me she did this interview because she wants other parents to keep tabs on what their children are doing.
Jane said, ”And they’re not even drinking This is it. They’re not even doing marijuana. It’s this fentanyl crisis that I want to bring to light.”
Here’s something to consider. According to Pew Research Center as of January this year, between 2015 and 2020, there was a 75-percent increase in drug overdose deaths.
African-American men saw a 213-percent increase in overdose fatalities while Caucasian men saw an increase of only 69 percent.
Among African-American women, overdose fatalities increased by 144-percent, outpacing women in every other racial/ethnic group.
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