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Families of fentanyl victims rally at N.C. Capitol, call for action against cartels, dealers

Patricia Dewes, center, organized the event to draw attention to the growing epidemic of fentanyl poisoning. Source: Patricia Dewes

By David Larson

Carolina Journal

This week, loved ones of those who died in the ongoing opioid epidemic gathered at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh to mark the first National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day. People gathered to mourn the tragic loss of life and to demand action from government officials.

Patricia Drewes, who lost her only child, Heaven, to a fentanyl overdose in 2019, told Carolina Journal in an Aug. 21 interview, that she organized the event after learning that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency had declared Aug. 21 the first annual Fentanyl Awareness Day. She had been planning a “Rise Up” rally on fentanyl in October, but shifted the date.

“I fight so that she did not die in vain,” Drewes said on why she organizes on the issue. “And that’s one thing I’m adamant about. She did not die for nothing.”

Drewes said her group, the Forgotten Victims of Vance, Granville, Franklin and Warren Counties, was an organic meeting of mothers who had lost their children to opioid, especially fentanyl, overdoses.

“I thought I was the only one this had ever happened to, to my child; then through social media, I was finding all these other mothers,” Drewes said.

She said she is also in Lost Voices of Fentanyl, a national group that has over 20,000 people, so she is not surprised at the kind of response she gets when organizing gatherings.

“We see it every day; every day it’s several new moms on that Facebook page that just lost their child to fentanyl poisoning,” Drewes said. “My daughter is on a billboard in Kentucky. On that billboard there is a 15-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy, and a 2-year-old baby, all dead from fentanyl. It’s an epidemic.”

The numbers confirm Drewes’ analysis. While only about 5,000 people typically died from drug overdoses per year in the United States, this number jumped to over 10,000 per year in the late 1990s due to a surge in heroin use. But the current problem now dwarfs those numbers, with 107,000 dying last year from overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The majority of these deaths, over 71,000, were due to fentanyl.

The most-recent data released by the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner showed that in 2021, fentanyl-overdose deaths hit a record, with 3,163. This was a 30% increase from the 2,426 deaths the year before.

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