The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fentanyl killed 18,000 people in 2016, which means for the first time, it has a higher death toll than heroin.
“It used to be that everybody knows somebody affected by cancer. Now, it’s everybody knows somebody affected by a fentanyl overdose,” said Rik Parks, whose stepson died from a fentanyl overdose last month.
Fentanyl has invaded Central Pennsylvania.
“Most of the heroin being distributed into our community most often than not has fentanyl in it,” said Michelle Olmeda, assistant program supervisor, RASE project.
Fentanyl is also a few miles down I-81 in Hagerstown, where a beloved 40-year-old father of three overdosed on fentanyl after years of sobriety from heroin.
“There were a few things in Tommy’s life that weren’t going perfect, and I suppose any of those could have been a trigger for him,” Parks said.
Dealers often use fentanyl to cut heroin and sometimes, they just sell the cheaper, more potent drug by itself, disguised as heroin.
“They are playing chemists. They don’t know what they’re doing, the mixture, the potency,” Olmeda said.
Higher highs come with worse withdrawals, and for dealers, that means customers come calling more often.
“It takes you closer to the edge of death, which makes for a better high,” Parks said.
Tommy’s family is fighting back, demanding change on the Facebook page Justice for Tommy.
“She wants to be on the political side of things, and she wants to fight for stiffer penalties for these dealers,” Parks said.
In Pennsylvania, the governor is calling for 80 places across the commonwealth to distribute free naloxone and training on Thursday.
Olmeda encourages loved ones of addicts to look for signs and behaviors like missing work, stealing and lying.
“Learn more about substance use disorder and look at the signs,” she said.
Their son may be at rest, but Tommy’s family won’t — not until the fight against opioids is won.
“Is it really worth 20 dollars in your pocket to take somebody’s life and put their family in a living nightmare that they can’t wake up from,” Parks asked.
Anyone who has struggled with addiction or lost someone to the disease is welcome to share their message on the Justice for Tommy Facebook page. Click here, to get connected.