Police chief: Fentanyl ‘definitely in our town’

Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

Fentanyl has made its way to Jefferson City, Police Chief Eric Wilde told members of the Public Safety Committee on Thursday.

After a Jefferson City man was arrested and charged with possession of fentanyl and drug trafficking, Wilde said he's been getting a lot of questions as it relates to fentanyl in the local community.

"It's definitely in our town, and it's pretty concerning for me because of how new it is," Wilde said.

According to the Missouri Health and Senior Services website, drug overdose is the number one leading cause of death among adults ages 18-44 in Missouri and 70 percent of those deaths involve opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 82.3 percent of opioid-involved overdoses involve synthetic opioids.

Fentanyl, a very potent synthetic opioid, is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as a pain-reliever, according to the DEA.

Fentanyl has been making national headlines as the overdose numbers rise. A 2021 CDC report noted the rates of overdose deaths involving fentanyl have tripled since 2016. According to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the numbers increased from 5.7 per 100,000 in 2016 to 21.6 per 100,000 in 2021; an increase of 279 percent.

Wilde said the fentanyl he's seen in Jefferson City is stamped into a pill that looks similar to prescription drugs like oxycontin. This can be a problem for the user, as there's no way to determine if there's a lethal amount of fentanyl in what they're taking.

The lethal dose for oxycontin is typically listed at about 80 mg, while a lethal dose for fentanyl can be 2 mg. A DEA lab test revealed in 2022 that six out of 10 fentanyl-laced pills contained at least 2 mg.

Drug dealers will mix fentanyl with other drugs like cocaine, meth and, as Cole County EMS Chief Eric Hoy has seen, xylazine, commonly known as horse tranquilizer.

There is no reversal agent for xylazine.

Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose by blocking the effects, but it has no effect on tranquilizers. When somebody overdoses on this mix, oxygen will stop reaching his or her brain, breathing will slow and the person will fall unconscious.

Building Community Bridges in Jefferson City provides harm-reduction kits that include naloxone.

Instead of waking this person up, Hoy said, they are "embracing their unconsciousness and putting them further to sleep." The only way to manage somebody in that case is to allow their body to fully metabolize the drug and leave the body.

"It really does become about care instead of reversal," Hoy said.

The CDC recommends using fentanyl strips, which are small papers that can detect the presence of fentanyl in any drug. Fentanyl strips are classified as drug paraphernalia in Missouri and therefore illegal. Since Fentanyl cannnot be identified through taste, touch or smell, Wilde said, this is a big step in harm reduction.