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Parent of heroin addict warns 'don't be the mom that I was'

Fentanyl taking over drug scene

DETROIT – Vicki King has constant reminders of what her son Jeff could have been, from pictures of his photography hanging on the walls of her home, to his dog, Java.

"He had an eye for the camera, and I don't think he realized how good he was, and he loved it, but then when things started getting bad, that passion started to fizzle away," King said.

King's son died at age 20 of an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl. Two years after his death, she is still unsure how his addiction started. She said he broke his arm, pulled his rotator cuff and dislocated his shoulder in a snowboarding injury when he was 15 or 16 and that might have triggered it. He finished high school, his grades were slipping and stories were not adding up -- but King just thought her son was being a teenager.

It was after he away to Wayne State University that her family got a major wake-up call about what was really going on in his life.

"We found him in the emergency room at Beaumont (Hospital), and he was there for an overdose, and that's what broke the whole thing open," King said. "And we found out all kinds of other things were going on, too. That just opened the door to all the demons. We found out all the stuff, about the pills and hiding things and skipping classes -- just everything. Everything started to fall into place."

Jeff went into recovery, but he died from his overdose just a few weeks later.

Timothy Plancon, a special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency Detroit Field Division, is on the front lines of the opioid battle, overseeing the agency's efforts to combat the crisis in Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

"I don't know if I've ever seen anything more significant in my career than the fentanyl," Plancon said. "It's as bad a problem as any crack epidemic ever was in the 80s -- as any drug epidemic has ever been in the United States."

Plancon said heroin laced with fentanyl is smuggled in from Mexico, and fentanyl is also being ordered online and shipped in from China.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid prescribed by doctors to treat chronic pain for cancer patients, but used illegally, it's dangerous to everyone. It can be absorbed through skin and inhaled, if airborne. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and two milligrams is all it takes to overdose: an amount smaller than a penny.

A report by the National Center for Health Statistics showed heroin became the No. 1 overdose killer in 2014. It also showed overdose deaths from fentanyl doubled from 2013 to 2014. However, it's unclear if the spike is partially due to coroners being asked to list specific drugs as a cause of death.

"It's not just mixed with heroin anymore," Plancon said.

We've learned some people are taking cocaine laced with fentanyl because they think it's less addictive, but it's not. Others are just taking fentanyl, and DEA agents are seeing the drug on the streets as liquids, powders and pills. The "chemical stuff" or "pure fire" are the names the DEA said people are using to get it.

"It's extremely profitable, which is even scarier, because you have a lot less, which is a lot easier to smuggle and (again), it's extremely profitable. Far more profitable than even heroin," Plancon said.

The other problem with fentanyl is, there are several different types. Carfentanil is just one example. It's an elephant tranquilizer that's 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

King now volunteers for Hope Not Handcuffs, a program that helps addicts get into recovery. She wants no parent to suffer her loss.

"I think my main message is, don't be the mom that I was, and don't say, 'Oh, my kid would never, ever, ever do that.' Always be on the alert. Always always be on the alert. Never say that, because you never know. You can hear my story. You can hear other stories from other parents just like me, and they'll say the same thing, you know," King said. "Don't ever say 'Not my kid.'"

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