Fentanyl-related deaths on the rise in Nebraska

The fentanyl crisis is deepening its hold in America -- and not even the Heartland is safe from its deadly grasp.
Published: May. 26, 2023 at 10:24 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Last year, around 1.5 million potentially lethal doses of Fentanyl were distributed last year in Nebraska.

“This year by all accounts of the numbers and where they’re trending it’s not slowing down,” said Steven Bell, special agent in charge with the DEA’s Omaha Division.

According to a recent study from the CDC, fentanyl-related deaths more than tripled between 2016 and 2021.

While Nebraska only sits at around 200 reported deaths a year, in Iowa the number is over 400.

However, Bell tells 6 News while that number seems good, it’s not exactly what it looks like.

“Our numbers are relatively what I would consider low, that it’s probably underreported,” he said.

Fentanyl is often laced with common opiates sold on the streets and not from a pharmacy. All it takes is a dose of around the same amount of eight crystals from a salt shaker to be deadly.

“You have a population who don’t know what they’re taking, and you end up dead,” said Bell.

According to the DEA, the problem points back to the Mexican-based Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels. Both are trafficking fentanyl all over the country, including in Nebraska.

“Make no mistake, they have associates here who coordinate with them on a daily basis on importing product and exporting currency,” Bell said.

In April of this year, 28 members and associates of the cartels were indicted through the DEA’s “Operation Last Mile” investigation effort. However, those addicted to the drugs still continue to suffer from their crimes.

“There has to be a treatment aspect to help curb the demand,” said Bell.

6 News went inside the halls of Northpoint Omaha. It is a drug and alcohol rehab center where people with fentanyl addiction can get help.

“We do have a medical detox program here. So we’ll use medication like suboxone to help taper somebody off,” said Tiffany Gormley, Northpoint Omaha’s clinical director.

Gormley shared with 6 News the signs of a Fentanyl overdose. They include but aren’t limited to small pupils, shortness of breath and erratic behavior.

While help is here through treatment and law enforcement investigations, both Gormley and Bell say honesty is key. Especially when it comes to underreporting.

“This is a community challenge. It is a community issue. It has to be a community solution. It starts with having a conversation,” said Bell.