‘Fentanyl is in everything’: After 15-year-old Alabama boy overdoses, authorities target deadly opioids

Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said his agency is prioritizing investigations involving the drug fentanyl amid rising overdoses and following the death last week of a 15-year-old girl in Seeds.

Cochran also said it’s likely Adrianna Taylor, a student at Mary G. Montgomery High School, and her 17-year-old boyfriend “didn’t know” they were ingesting fentanyl – a synthetic opioid stronger than morphine – last Wednesday before she died.

“They crushed what they thought were opioids and snorted them,” Cochran said Thursday. “Afterwards, we determined that the pills contained fentanyl…which led to his overdose.”

The 17-year-old has since been arrested and charged with manslaughter and distributing a controlled substance.

“We’re trying to pursue any leads we get on people selling fentanyl-containing pills,” Cochran said, speaking generally of a growing number of incidences in Mobile County. “Some sell it without realizing it contains fentanyl. That’s why it’s been linked to overdose deaths.

Authorities also made a fentanyl-related arrest Wednesday in a case unrelated to Taylor’s death.

Two men, with active arrest warrants, were arrested during a traffic stop in Prichard and jailed in the Mobile County jail for trafficking fentanyl.

  • Tretin D. Ferguson, 33, was also charged with trafficking in ecstasy, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was also arrested on a warrant for robbery.
  • Michael E. Carson, 38, was also convicted of possession of marijuana, possession/receiving of a controlled substance, and possession of a firearm despite being prohibited from doing so.

Cochran said trafficking offenses carry a minimum of three years in prison and the possibility of a life sentence.

“We are handling (investigations) as usual, except we emphasize with our narcotics (investigators) that if you get a tip or a lead on fentanyl, jump on it right away,” a said Cochran. “We know this is a dangerous threat. We prioritize investigative efforts because everyone has limited resources. We ask them to focus on fentanyl.

deadly drug

Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran speaks before the Mobile County Commission during the panel meeting Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, at Government Plaza in Mobile, Ala. (John Sharp/[email protected]).

The synthetic opioid is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. A small dose, according to authorities, can lead to death.

Virginia Guy, executive director of the Drug Education Council in Mobile, said fentanyl-containing pills were becoming so prevalent that she warned it was becoming too dangerous for anyone to take any pill offered to them on the street.

“Every pill, in my mind, on the street today is suspicious,” Guy said. “It’s just gotten to a point now where fentanyl is in everything. It’s in some of the marijuana that’s picked up. It’s getting worse.”

Guy said another alarming sign is that people who have never used drugs or are new to drugs are dying.

“We’re seeing now, for the first time and in the last two years, people who don’t have addictions, dying from these drugs,” she said. “Before, there were people who got addicted and they couldn’t do drugs through legal means…they took something, overdosed and died.”

Guy referenced an incident in South Florida during spring break in which seven people, including five West Point military cadets, were hospitalized with drug overdoses. Four of the seven patients voluntarily ingested cocaine, which was mixed with fentanyl, while three others encountered the drug while performing CPR, according to reports.

“These weren’t people who needed drug treatment,” Guy said. “We are seeing users for the first time. With (Taylor, in Semmes), it’s obvious she wasn’t a regular drug user with more.

Alarming statistics, trends

Statistics show a startling increase in overdose deaths in Alabama and across the country.

Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that general drug overdose deaths in Alabama increased by more than 20% between March 2021 and March 2022, which is the agency’s most recent data.

Neighboring states such as Georgia and Arkansas reported similar increases. The United States saw a 9.7% increase in drug overdose deaths over the same period.

The CDC reports that 107,622 people died from drug overdoses in 2021 in the United States, with 66.2% or 71,238 deaths linked to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

“So many times we have an overdose death, we determine it’s an overdose (at the start of the investigation), but we don’t know what it actually is until you receive a toxicology report,” Cochran said. He said a toxicology report could take months to a year to complete.

Across the country, concerns are mounting as fentanyl-related deaths soar and teens — like Taylor — die from the drug.

In Texas, four students who attend a school district near Austin died over the summer of a suspected fentanyl overdose.

Federal authorities are also concerned about the increase in the number of rainbow-colored pills containing fentanyl, which are said to be more attractive and less threatening to children. In August, federal agents seized brightly colored fentanyl and fentanyl pills in 18 states.

Authorities elsewhere are also trying to crack down to prevent the spread of the drug. In Maine, authorities seized 3.75 pounds of suspected fentanyl – worth around $255,000 – which was to be distributed in four counties.

In Santa Barbara County, California, a 34-year-old man has been charged with murder following the fentanyl-related death of another man in April. It was the first time authorities in that county have charged anyone with murder related to fentanyl use, according to a local media report.

In Colorado, authorities have charged a 31-year-old woman with child abuse resulting in death after her one-year-old daughter was found dead. An autopsy showed the baby died from the toxic effects of fentanyl, according to media reports.

In Alabama, federal authorities recently sentenced Rolando Antuain Williamson, 37, of Bessemer, to life in August for running a multimillion-dollar drug smuggling operation that included fentanyl. Williamson was one of 18 defendants charged with drug trafficking following a three-year federal drug task force investigation.

In Mobile County, Jessica Defloren Tubb, 37, was sentenced May 12 to 15 years in prison for drug-related crimes, including actions that led to Kelsey Johnston’s 2018 overdose at Tillman’s Corner .

Authorities later sentenced William Grant Owens, 55, to life in prison for his role in Johnston’s death and for his role in enacting a ‘major drug conspiracy’ that included the distribution of fentanyl.

Testimony during a five-day trial in the United States District Court established that Owens, desiring to have sex with Johnston, ordered Tubb to obtain fentanyl and bring him on October 11, 2018, at the Rode Way Inn, at Tillman’s Corner.

Owens prepared the fentanyl on a spoon and asked Tubb to inject Mrs. Johnston. Almost instantly, Ms Johnston lost consciousness and had difficulty breathing. Neither Tubbs nor Owens sought medical help and fled the scene. Her body was found the next morning by hotel maintenance staff.

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