State sees rise in fentanyl-related deaths

ByDonald L. Leech

Sep 12, 2022

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has been used for years to treat severe pain or to manage post-operative pain, has been in the news in recent years due to a sharp rise in drug overdose deaths attributed to an illicit form drugs sweeping the nation.

Federal authorities in Little Rock said Arkansas could not avoid the surge.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020, drug overdoses killed 546 in Arkansas, placing the state 37th in the nation for overdose deaths, with 19.1 deaths from one overdose per 100,000 people. The CDC said that was a 41% increase from the previous year.

“Once fentanyl hit the scene, it ushered in the deadliest era we’ve ever seen in drugs,” said Jarad Harper, deputy special agent in charge of the District Office of Drugs. United States Enforcement Administration in Little Rock. “Drug overdoses are now the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45, and 70% of those deaths are caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl.”

Illegally manufactured fentanyl began appearing in drugs such as heroin and cocaine a few years ago to increase the euphoric effects of these drugs, but it is now found in counterfeit prescription drugs, often present in without the knowledge of the user and often with fatal results. According to the CDC, drug overdoses claimed the lives of a record 107,622 people in the United States in 2021, with nearly 72,000 of those deaths — 67% of the total — attributable to synthetic opioids.

According to the CDC, fentanyl is about 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and morphine, and as little as 2 milligrams can be deadly.

DEA officials warned last December that criminal drug networks in Mexico were mass-producing deadly fentanyl and fake fentanyl-containing pills using chemicals largely sourced from China. These fake prescription pills are designed to appear identical to legitimate prescription drugs – such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Xanax and other drugs – and have been found in every state nationwide. and often contain lethal doses of fentanyl. The DEA has determined that four out of 10 fake pills tested contain lethal amounts of fentanyl.

In 2021 alone, the DEA said, it seized enough fentanyl to supply a lethal dose of the drug to every man, woman and child in the United States, largely in the form of fake prescription pills, and The fentanyl onslaught hasn’t let up in 2022.

Harper said with millions of fake prescription pills and tons of powdered fentanyl being imported into the United States, the problem cuts across all walks of American life.

He called fentanyl “the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced.”

He said most of the fentanyl entering the United States is made by one of Mexico’s two drug cartels, the Sinaloa and CJNG cartels, using raw materials sourced from China.

“They synthesize these massive amounts of fentanyl, they squeeze it into these fake pills that look like legitimate drugs,” Harper said.

“They’ve been known to sell these products to people who might not even be looking for fentanyl. This is the most alarming thing to me…that these pills exist and they look almost identical.

Counterfeit pills, Harper said, arrive in the country in the millions.

“We’re working hard here at the DEA to get out of this, but we’re not going to stop to get out of this,” Harper said.

“It will take more than a state effort and more than law enforcement. We’re trying to bring in prevention and addiction experts, medical examiners, state and federal prosecutor’s offices…it’s going to take a whole court press to get this case under control.

At the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Little Rock, Chris Givens, the Deputy Chief Criminal, handles a slew of fentanyl cases and recently led the prosecution of Jemel Foster, who was convicted by a jury last July of distributing fentanyl causing death and faces a possible life sentence when convicted later this year.

Givens said so far this year, the office is handling five cases of fentanyl distribution resulting in death, three of which he personally handles.

Several other cases, he said, are being investigated and could result in charges in the coming months.

What makes the cases more complex than simple trafficking cases, he said, is the requirement to link the fentanyl taken by the victim to the accused person.

“It’s not enough to prove they sold fentanyl,” Givens said. “We need to prove that they sold the fentanyl to the victim, that it was their fentanyl that caused the death rather than the fentanyl they might have found elsewhere. That’s the defense Jemel Foster tried to use and the jury didn’t believe her.


The human cost in lives and heartbreak of loved ones left behind is inestimable. Marti Riley of Marion lost her 22-year-old daughter, Laura Jane Riley, known as “Lolly,” to an overdose of fentanyl on March 26, 2021. She said Lolly started suffering from migraines somewhere time before his death but was unable to obtain prescription remedies for his condition.

“I think she started receiving illegal painkillers,” Riley said, surmising her daughter’s path that led to her death began with debilitating headaches that left her desperate for relief. . In the months leading up to Lolly’s death, Riley said, she began noticing behavioral changes.

“It wasn’t something I could put my finger on,” she said. “I was trying to get her into rehab and she wouldn’t go, she was an adult and wouldn’t commit.”

Despite pressure from her two brothers and her sister, Riley said, her youngest daughter could not be persuaded to seek help.

On March 26, 2021, Riley said she brought things for her daughter to Lolly’s apartment in West Memphis.

“I started knocking on the front door and no response, so I walked back and started knocking and no response,” she said. “I thought maybe she walked to Walmart because she didn’t have a vehicle…so I left and went to the gym, and I hadn’t been there for 10 minutes when the police called me.”

Riley described her daughter as kind and caring to everyone.

“She was a beautiful girl inside and out,” Riley said. “She loved babies, and if there was one in the room, that’s where she was.”


Laura Sipes of Cabot lost her son, Jordan Michael Laughy, to a fentanyl overdose at age 27 on April 29, 2020. She said Jordan struggled with addiction for years after the brother of a girlfriend had introduced him to the heroine several years earlier.

“I know he smoked weed in high school and got in trouble because of it, normal stuff,” Sipes said.

“He met a girl from Batesville and it really changed his life. His brother was a heroin addict and he introduced him to my son. After that, [Jordan] said ‘I can’t go back, I don’t know how to go back. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want it all the time.'”

Sipes said she and her husband remained loyal to their son, sending him to rehab and monitoring his progress, and ironically, she said, at the time of his death, Jordan seemed to be getting better. But, she said, during a visit to Cabot to see her two children and their mother, she was offered — and accepted — heroin that turned out to be laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl. .

“I found him that morning and tried to do CPR, but it was too late,” she said. “Then we found out it was fentanyl and had been put into what he thought was heroin.”

Despite his son’s struggles with addiction, Sipes said Jordan was a devoted father to his two children and an outgoing and friendly person.

“Jordan was everyone’s friend,” she said. “If you needed anything, he would give you the shirt he had on his back. He had this light around him and everyone loved him.


Cassandra Flowers of Rogers said the feelings she has experienced since the death of her daughter, Cassie, at the age of 28 on October 1, 2020, is something every parent should be able to relate to.

“Do you have children?” The flowers asked. “That’s all you need to know here. If you’re a parent,” she trailed off, then angrily continued, “What’s going on with fentanyl is… it’s messed up.

Flowers said Cassie and her twin brother, Alex, always cautioned her against making sure all her prescriptions were properly stored in the original prescription bottles and against taking any medication from her. origin unknown. But, Flowers said, Cassie had struggled with depression since her teenage years and became addicted to the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

That day in October, Flowers said, Cassie’s young son Liam was staying with his father and Cassie, staying with her parents, took what she believed to be a Xanax pill from someone in she trusted. Flowers learned the truth when the medical examiner’s report came back.

“The only things in his system were his Prozac, baking soda, caffeine and enough fentanyl to kill four people.” she said sadly. “It wasn’t even Xanax. It wasn’t Xanax with fentanyl added, it was something someone made in their garage in a pill press to look like Xanax.

Flowers said she returned that night to find her daughter’s body.

“I walked in and just thought she was sleeping in the chair, but she was dead,” Flowers said in tears. “I miss her so much. She was so amazing.

Flowers said the stigma surrounding overdose deaths doesn’t take all factors into account.