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Fentanyl's fatal impact on Kentucky | How did it get this bad?

Fentanyl killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2021. Many did not know they were taking it, including people here in Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Fentanyl killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2021. Many did not know they were taking it, including people here in Kentucky.

Before the pandemic, fentanyl was mostly found with injected drugs like heroin and meth. It's an opioid, like morphine, but a hundred times more potent.

Because of its strength - as fewer people traveled due to COVID-19, and it became harder to transport illegal drugs - dealers started to sell fentanyl under the guise of other less-lethal drugs. They started selling it in the form of drugs like Xanax, though it's significantly more potent.

Credit: Louisville Metro Public Health

Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration says one pill can kill. 

"Next month it will have been one year," Morgan Profumo told WHAS11 in her Highlands home on Wednesday.

Profumo says her 22-year-old sister Ryan was with friends when she took a pill she thought was Xanax.

"My mom just broke down obviously and she called me and all I remember is my littlest brother just screaming crying in the background, he just couldn't catch his breath," Profumo said. "And, I just liked blacked out, just kept saying, 'What? What?' Because I couldn't believe what she was saying was real." 

It's a reality more families in Louisville are facing. First, a loved one dies, then weeks later a toxicology report tells them what happened.

Pamela Brown in Cox's Creek said, "It's been hard."

Her son, Timmy, died 11 weeks ago. She thought it was a heart attack.

Last week, she found out fentanyl was to blame.

It's been a difficult thing to process, trying to figure out how her son - who she said didn't have a drug problem - overdosed. 

Then, she saw a post from the Louisville Metro Police Department on Facebook. Officers seized 8.5 kilograms of the drug that could've killed millions.

"I cried happy tears for a change because I don't want to see anyone else lose their child," Brown said. "It's really horrible and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

To keep more people from dying, Ben Goldman with Louisville Metro Public Health said there's a clear solution.

"The easiest way to protect yourself and others is to make sure that you are trained in Narcan use and have access to it," Goldman said.

Narcan can reverse the effects of an overdose on an opioid. To learn more about that you can visit Louisville Metro Public Health's website

They also offer free fentanyl test strips. You can use them to determine if a substance contains fentanyl.

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