2022 on par to set record for fentanyl deaths

Two mothers who lost their children to fentanyl overdoses are taking a stand. One has already successfully changed the law effective Aug. 1, 2022. Another mother has a petition going to change the law making fentanyl-related arrestees serve a mandatory life sentence.

A substance that continues to cause an increasing number of deaths in East Baton Rouge Parish is fentanyl, according to the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office.

“Right now, we’re experiencing multiple fentanyl overdoses daily and there is concern that if it continues, we could surpass previous years’ records,” said EBR Coroner’s Chief of Investigations Shane Evans.

There have been 121 fentanyl-related deaths in East Baton Rouge Parish as of June 21, 2022. It can take anywhere between 6-12 weeks for toxicology reports to return. That’s why the available numbers are through June 21st. The 121 number would not include the death of 2-yr-old Mitchell Robinson on June 26, 2022. The fentanyl level is his system was nearly 5 times the lethal limit.

For the same time frame last year from Jan, 1- June 21, 2021, there were 113 deaths and 93 deaths in the same span in 2020.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. The medicine is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery.

It’s also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are tolerant to other opioids.

Lilly Harvey (mother of Camille Harvey)

Fentanyl has not only caused destruction to individuals but to the victims’ families as well. Lilly Harvey’s daughter, Lillie Camille Harvey, died of a heroin overdose laced with fentanyl in Alexandria in 2017.

Lilly Harvey, once a heroin addict herself, said her daughter’s death was devastating.

“After she died of an overdose, I couldn’t find anything to get involved in,” Harvey said. “In 2017, I started an overdose awareness day and it’s grown since. I’ve watched many mothers say they can’t get out of bed. It’s devastating to some families.”

The problem is made more prevalent when fentanyl is present in other drugs such as pain pills, cocaine and marijuana. Most times, the users don’t know the drugs are laced with fentanyl.

“It’s coming to the point where you have to assume fentanyl is in everything,” Harvey said. “No way to tell. In my day, kids could smoke a joint and live to regret it the next day. You can’t do that now.”

Harvey worked with legislators to get “Millie’s Law” passed, which was officially signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and went into effect Aug. 1, 2022.

“I felt like we needed to get fentanyl in the law and it has to be a crime of violence,” Harvey said. “It was pretty phenomenal when we got our “yes” vote. It was a big victory.”

The bill amends the current law. The bill states if a person unlawfully distributes heroin or fentanyl, or a mixture containing either, which is the direct cause of serious bodily injury, they face a prison sentence of five to 40 years.

At least five of the years of the sentence must be served without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. There could also be a fine of up to $50,000. The offense is also now classified as a crime of violence.

Harvey founded the Millie Mattered Overdose and Addiction Advocacy organization, which hosts several events across the state throughout the year bringing awareness to the drug epidemic.

Kristina Lambert (mother of Brandon Thomas)

Lambert’s son Brandon Thomas suffered a fentanyl-related death on Dec. 3, 2021 when someone laced marijuana with it. She has since started a petition to also change the laws in Louisiana.

“Something needs to be done. The criminals know too many loop holes and the justice system has too many cracks they can fall through. We need longer and stiffer sentences & repeat offender sentences. I don’t feel taking someone’s life and getting a 5-yr sentence is justice served,” said Brandon’s mother Kristina Lambert.

There were three types of fentanyl in the marijuana, according to Lambert.

“He was here with us for Thanksgiving and he wanted to move down here,” she said. “He was trying to move away from Bogalusa. He went back home. He was trying to get up on his own two feet. The police still won’t give me a lot, saying they’re still investigating it. They’re still trying to get into his phone in hopes of trying to find out where they got it from. All we know currently is that apparently somebody put it in the marijuana and he smoked it.”

Lambert said her son fell asleep and didn’t wake up. She said she got a call from her oldest son telling her Brandon was gone.

“That’s when it hit me and I said to my eldest son, ‘This not a joke. Don’t do this to me’,” Lambert recalled. “I haven’t caught my breath since.”

After Thomas’ death, Lambert started a petition to create a law that would severely punish the drug dealers.

“Too many people are dying. Too many people are getting slapped on the wrist,” she said. “This is a game to the dealers. They get arrested and they don’t serve no time. If they do, it’s a year and they get out and do it again. Families like mine are left to pick up the pieces. You had kids growing up with no parents, mothers & fathers living with a shattered life while they get to go on like nothing has happened. They don’t care and there are no consequences to it and they know that.”

Lambert wants the law to change making it a felony charge that carries a mandatory life sentence for anyone who sells fentanyl or any other street drug mixed with fentanyl. 

So far, she has 887 signatures on her petition. She said her goal is to get as many signatures as she possibly can before presenting it to a legislator. (To sign the petition, click here)

“There have been instances where people are being arrested and charged with different drug charges, but the district attorneys are letting them walk when they should be getting mandatory jail sentences. It’s not that the police aren’t doing their jobs. They are. It’s the judges and DA’s who aren’t doing their jobs,” said Lambert.

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