Fentanyl poisoning awareness rally planned in Greenville

Mar. 17—Fiercely Fighting Fentanyl Poisoning (3FP) — a Hunt County organization committed to educating the community about the dangers of illicitly manufactured fentanyl — plans to hold its second Fentanyl Awareness Rally on Friday, April 14 on the steps of the Hunt County Courthouse.

Called "Don't CHEY away it's not a LITTLE problem," the gathering will mark the two-year anniversary of the death of Cheyenne Little of Greenville, whose life was cut short by an accidental Fentanyl overdose at the age of 26.

Since then, Cheyenne's mother and 3FP-founder Misty Greer-Little has been continuing her mission of educating the public about how fake pills laced with fentanyl — like the one Cheyenne took thinking it was a hydrocodone — can easily result in poisoning.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 77,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses during the 12-month period between October 2021 and October 2022.

In view of this trend, the Texas Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would allow medical examiners to designate fentanyl deaths as poisonings — which would, in turn, allow prosecutors to charge distributors of fentanyl with murder.

"This is designed to address the 'one-pill scenario' where due to the lethality of fentanyl compared to other illicit drugs, it only takes one pill to kill," said state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, author of the bill.

Senate Bill 645 has now gone on to the Texas House for review and possible approval. If passed by the House and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, the law would raise the penalty of manufacture and delivery of less than one gram of fentanyl from a state jail felony to a third-degree felony. Also, if the sale of the drug containing fentanyl leads to a death, the penalty could be increased to a second-degree felony, for which the sentence can be two-20 years in prison.

"There is already a legal mechanism for charging doctors with murder if they cause opioid overdose deaths, so if we move over from just having that on the medical side to also having this [Senate Bill 645] on the street side ... it could be another tool in our toolbox in preventing poisoning," said Wesley Russell, a narcotics officer with the Commerce Police Department who's also a task force officer with the Tactical Diversion Squad of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

"Now, a lot of times, the overdoses come from pills that look like a Xanax or something else, so the dealer may or may not know if it contains fentanyl, but usually they do," Russell noted. "Either way, it's still criminally negligent homicide if you sell someone that pill and it kills them.

"So, I do think that something like this [law] could make a difference ... even in small rural communities around here, where people might not think there's a problem with fentanyl," he added. "Right now, we're having run-ins with it in all kinds of communities. It's a problem that doesn't know boundaries."

As for the upcoming fentanyl awareness rally, it will be at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 14 on the front steps of the Hunt County Courthouse in Greenville. The rally will feature personal testimonies from Greer-Little and others who have lost loved ones to accidental fentanyl overdoses, as well as presentations on facts and figures regarding the fentanyl epidemic, and updates on local education and prevention efforts.