Powerful drug is killing dozens in SWFL, users don’t even know it’s there

There is a deadly drug problem in Southwest Florida. Several people arrested in the last month had fentanyl on them. It is a potent drug – the smallest amount can kill a person.

Fentanyl is showing up in large quantities on the street. People who are buying other drugs, such as cocaine, have no idea it is being cut with that deadly opiate. Often, they never find out, but the medical examiner does.

Adam Armstrong, who lives in Lee County, said so many people have died from drugs mixed with fentanyl that he has stopped counting. Armstrong was born and raised in Fort Myers. His addiction started with opiates.

“I just celebrated my 35th birthday,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t think I would make it being a heroin user.”

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office eventually arrested Armstrong. That started him on the road to recovery over three years ago.

” I told myself I’m not going back,” he said. “I can’t go back, because if I do, I’m dead.”

More and more drug dealers are sneaking fentanyl into illicit drugs. Armstrong said that is what happened to one of his best friends earlier this year.

“My mom sent me a text message and I’m looking at the phone,” Armstrong said. “It says Robbie’s dead.”

Brenda Iliff, executive director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples, said people think they are buying cocaine or Xanax bars. Those drugs on the street actually have fentanyl in them in some cases. “They put it in drugs to cut the drug and extend the high to make it a better high,” Iliff said.

Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell said the trend is picking up in his community too.

Sheriff Prummell said the deadly drug is moving in from areas all over Southwest Florida. So far this year, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has seen more than 90 overdoses. Ten of those overdoses involved fentanyl.

The most recent data from the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement shows in the first half of 2018, fentanyl cut with other drugs killed 18 people in Collier County.

In Lee County, that number increased to 90. In Cape Coral, police told WINK News overdoses had taken at least 25 lives this year. In 24 of those cases, fentanyl was either the cause or cut with another drug.

Much of the fentanyl is moving through the mail, like in a Lee County case we told you about in September. Stasia Lynn Bolitho, 43, now faces charges after 1.6 kg of fentanyl was found in a package that was ready to ship. It is the same way the drug is making its way into America.

“We’re getting a lot of the fentanyl from China,” Iliff said.

The recently signed Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act of 2018 makes the U.S. Postal Service gather information on incoming foreign mail. It is all to stop fentanyl and other drugs from making it across the border, including from China.

That supply from China is one reason Armstrong is working so hard to save lives. He produces inspirational videos on the topic for online audiences.

“I’m doing this to save people and it’s coming to fruition,” Armstrong said. “I’m so grateful.”

He means he’s grateful to be here when so many other lives have been lost to a sneaky, deadly problem on our streets.

“I just know that with persistence,” Armstrong said, “you can break down resistance.”

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Reporter:Channing Frampton
Writer:Michael Mora
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