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Fentanyl-laced  drug overdoses concerns county attorney


December 5, 2018

WORLAND – A Worland man was life-flighted to a Billings, Mont. hospital over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend after an apparent heroin overdose. Toxicology reports showed the synthetic opioid fentanyl was also in the patient’s system.

The man survived and remains hospitalized while he continues to recover.

According to Washakie County Attorney John Worrall, the fentanyl-laced heroin is believed to be related to recent drug arrests but the case continues to be under investigation.

Fentanyl is a painkiller up to 10 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is often illegally manufactured and shipped to the US from China. Fentanyl is cheaper and easier to obtain than heroin, making it a desirable cutting agent for drug dealers. It is also used as a cutting agent in pill-form opioids such as Oxycodone. The accidental overdose deaths of rock superstars Prince and Tom Petty have been attributed to this dangerous combination.

This is the second known recent overdose involving fentanyl. In late August, a Worland woman was revived by a family member after an accidental overdose of fentanyl-laced Oxycodone.

According to Worrall, these two incidents are probably not the only cases of fentanyl overdose in Washakie County over the last few months. “These are only the cases that came across my desk for possible prosecution,” he said. “We’re aware of at least two other overdoses that haven’t been reported through law enforcement.”

“Fentanyl is even more dangerous to those who haven’t used in a while because the body hasn’t built any kind of tolerance to it,” said Deborah Anderson, addiction specialist with Cloud Peak Counseling Center. “Factor in the fact that fentanyl doesn’t respond to NARCAN (the opioid reversal drug) well, and you have a very volatile situation that can, and does, very easily lead to death.”

Anderson added that friends and family play an important role in saving lives.

“The drug dealers don’t care,” she said. “Friends and family may think they are helping, but by allowing these drugs to be used, they are contributing to their loved-one’s death. A recent client summed it up very profoundly for me: ‘We have to stop killing our friends by selling to them.’”

Anderson said that nobody really knows what they are getting when they buy drugs. “It could, and usually is, cut with all kinds of different drugs.”

Worrall points to a September, 2016 case where Worland resident Robert Kulze, 30, died from an overdose of heroin. In that case, Joseph Leyva, 29 of Worland, pleaded guilty to supplying the fatal dose to Kulze. He is currently serving eight years in prison for trafficking and involuntary manslaughter, with eight years of supervised probation afterward.

“Although that case didn’t involve fentanyl, I was apprehensively hopeful it would be a watershed moment for our small community,” said Worrall. “And for a while, we certainly saw a dramatic drop in drug cases. But with these recent cases, we feel the need to double-down on this poison.”

Worrall said that those that are caught selling the fentanyl-laced drugs will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. “If that means homicide charges, then so be it.”

“Robby Kulze didn’t have to die that night,” said Worrall. “Neither does the next one.” 


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