© 2024 Marfa Public Radio
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Lobby Hours: Monday - Friday 10 AM to Noon & 1 PM to 4 PM
For general inquiries: (432) 729-4578
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Recent overdoses prompt warnings about fentanyl use in the Big Bend region

A person holds a naloxone kit, a life-saving drug used for people actively experiencing an overdose.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
A person holds a naloxone kit, a life-saving drug used for people actively experiencing an overdose.

In the Big Bend region, local police have been warning about an uptick in drug overdose incidents believed to have involved fentanyl, the deadly opioid that killed more than 2,100 people in Texas last year alone, according to state data.

Fentanyl has of course been a nationwide problem in recent years, but the crisis came close to home earlier this year after the suspected overdose death of a 23-year-old man in Alpine in February, as the Big Bend Sentinel has reported.

Marfa Public Radio spoke with the newspaper’s managing editor Rob D’Amico for more on what authorities are saying about the presence of fentanyl in West Texas.

Interview Highlights

On recent incidents in the region

Two suspected overdose cases in Alpine in February prompted local authorities to issue warnings about fentanyl in the region.

D’Amico called the more recent case “particularly tragic.”

“It was a young man who overdosed while doing drugs with his mother, who survived,” he said.

As the Sentinel has reported, that death came just a week after another suspected overdose death in Alpine.

Still, D’Amico cautions that local authorities have yet to formally link fentanyl use to the deaths as test results remain pending.

“We talked to the justice of the peace in Brewster County, Scott Wassermann, and he said, ‘We won’t know for sure that this was fentanyl until the autopsy, toxicology reports come back,” D’Amico said.

On the response from local police

In the weeks after the recent suspected overdoses, both the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office and the Alpine Police Department issued warnings on social media about the presence of fentanyl in the region.

“I think it shocked a lot of people in Alpine,” D’Amico said. “Even if you know of the problem, if you know how dangerous this opioid can be when taken, it still is kind of a big surprise, I think, for the small-town sensibilities of Alpine to see it happen to people that they know.”

D’Amico notes that local law enforcement have warned both about the drug’s dangers and that they will aggressively pursue cases against people suspected of distributing fentanyl.

“They did also sponsor a kind of training and first-aid in the use of Narcan,” D’Amico said, referring to the over-the-counter medicine used to reverse an overdose, which some local pharmacies have started carrying.

On recent drug-related arrests

In early March, the Sentinel reported on multiple drug-related arrests in the Big Bend region, one stemming from one of the overdose cases in February.

One of the people arrested was Willie Lara III, the brother of the 23-year-old man who died from a suspected overdose just weeks earlier.

“So here you have the man overdosing, his brother goes off and is bringing more drugs back to what they said was to sell in Alpine,” D’Amico said.

On how prevalent fentanyl actually is in the BIg Bend region

Local data on fentanyl incidents can be hard to come by, and data specifically on overdoses from the state health department can lag behind actual deaths by a few months.

Given that, D’Amico said he’s mostly encountered “anecdotal information” on how much fentanyl is in the region.

“For instance, the [justice of the peace] saying well no, we haven’t really seen this, I think there was one last year,” he said.

D’Amico spoke to the sheriff in Brewster County and the police chiefs in Marfa and Alpine for his recent stories. He said their anecdotal conversations suggested that fentanyl in the region isn’t a “huge problem.”

“So we don’t know if this is just one peculiar flashpoint of fentanyl-related both deaths and arrests, or if it’s just something that hasn’t surfaced yet and it is a true problem,” D’Amico said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.