Kansas City area ‘in crisis’ after hundreds die from fentanyl

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After three days of no contact with her son, Katrina Smith decided to visit her son’s home to check on him. She spent 20 minutes knocking on the door until a 4-year-old girl, her son’s fiance’s daughter, answered with a heartbreaking statement: “Mommy and Daddy won’t wake up.”

Smith is one of the bereaved parents who shared her story with The Kansas City Star as part of an investigation on the fentanyl epidemic.

According to the Star, Smith’s son and his fiance died from fentanyl. Shockingly, the couple’s death had been captured by their home security camera. The two young girls, aged 4 and 3, had been in the house during the harrowing two days since the couple’s deaths. The security footage revealed the children’s attempts to cover their parents and even offer them cookies.

“They did not OD,” Smith told the Star. “This was a homicide, there’s no other way to look at it. … They were poisoned.”

Between 2018 and 2022, fentanyl has claimed the lives of more than 850 people in the nine-county region around Kansas City, based on records the Star obtained from medical examiners. Johnson County, in particular, recorded a staggering 149 fentanyl-related fatalities during this five-year period, a number three times higher than the count of homicides in the county during the same timeframe.

“We are in a crisis. And I am afraid that we are at the front end of a tidal wave,” Tony Mattivi, director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, told the Star. “I’m very concerned, with the way the numbers keep going up, that it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.”

A comprehensive analysis by The Star, based on data from medical examiners, revealed a striking surge in fentanyl-related deaths over the past few years. Overall, there was a 584% increase in fatalities across all counties from 2019 to 2022. The surge was most pronounced in Jackson County, where the number of fentanyl-related deaths skyrocketed by 654%, soaring from 22 to 166 fatalities within the same period.

Breaking down the data further, it became evident that those between the ages of 20 and 40 bore the brunt of this crisis. Among the total deaths, 223 victims were in their 20s, 255 were in their 30s, and 148 were in their 40s.

“It’s wiping our youth out,” Shannon Earnshaw, whose son Shawn Dewey II died in September 2022, told the Star.

Unfortunately, the crisis is playing out in cities and towns across the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 111,000 people died in the past year from drug overdoses and fentanyl poisoning. It’s now the number one cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

“I have never seen this many cases like this just skyrocket,” Dr. Lindsey Haldiman, the Jackson County medical examiner, told the Star. “We’ve always had meth. We’ve always had cocaine, but I’ve never seen this many from one drug.”

A drug that is leaving a trail of destruction and heartbreak across the nation.

“It’s not discriminating against anybody,” Gabrielle Anderson, whose 17-year-old son died from fentanyl earlier this year in Blue Springs, told the Star. “It’s gonna be everywhere, anywhere. I don’t care if you have a million dollars or a dollar, it can still get to you.”