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‘Preventable deaths’: KC mayor tackles drug crisis with first-ever ‘Fentanyl Summit’

Kansas City Star - 12/9/2023

Mayor Quinton Lucas held a “Fentanyl Summit” Friday afternoon at the Kansas City Health Department to raise awareness on the city’s fentanyl and opioid crisis.

Health officials, law enforcement and families had a public discussion to tackle the epidemic of opioid and fentanyl related-deaths.

During a press conference after the event, the mayor categorized the issue of drug overdoses in the city as an “epidemic” driven by fentanyl.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there were 109,698 overdose deaths in 2022. As previously reported by The Star, Kansas City saw a nearly 1,000% increase in overdose deaths from 2017 to 2021. The Star reported that since 2018, more than 850 people in the city died from fentanyl.

While the mayor spoke on the rise of drug-related deaths in the city, he stressed the importance of remembering the humanity behind the statistics that attest to this crisis in America.

“The numbers are important,” Lucas said. “But what does that nearly 1000% percent increase mean? It means that there are hundreds of families in Kansas City who have been touched by this epidemic. There are hundreds of friends, schools and neighborhoods that are touched by this epidemic and we’re committed to fighting it.”

The mayor referenced his recent visit with North Kansas City high school students who presented their efforts to reduce opioid overdoses in the city. While there, the mayor realized youth want public officials to be present and care about the issues that affect them.

“The first thing I took from the youth the other day is they want us to speak with them,” Lucas said.

“It turns out having voices that say we are here for you and care about you surviving, are the things we’re working hard to do.”

As he discussed the youth, the mayor addressed the issue of young people dying from “preventable deaths” at a high rate.

“A problem with Kansas City this year is youth are dying too young from preventable deaths…shootings, fentanyl and suicides,” the mayor said.

“The number of things that we are addressing now with our youth, shows that we need to find a way to get our voices to them more fully.”

After Lucas, the Kansas City Health Department’s Director, Dr. Marvia Jones, explained the department’s role in helping to fight the drug crisis in the city.

“Some people ask why is public health involved with this (fentanyl and opioid issue) and what do we offer? One of the things public health is looked to, is the ability to identify where each individual sector has a role,” Jones said.

Jones said public health’s responsibility is to provide and analyze data used to make decisions and find solutions.

According to the mayor, there will be more conversations to raise awareness on the issue of fentanyl and opioid-related deaths, “until it’s not a problem anymore.”

After officials spoke, Holly Yocum, whose daughter Jaden Anderson, 21, died in July 2022, after taking drugs laced with fentanyl, told her story.

Yocum said her daughter was a “beautiful spirit” who experienced struggles, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Yocum said Anderson sometimes felt discomfort from the way her prescribed medication would make her feel.

“Anyone who has children or a loved one with bipolar disorder knows that they don’t always like their medication and so they search for other avenues,” Yocum said.

“Unfortunately that is what happened to my daughter and it can happen to yours,” Yocum said.

This discomfort, according to Yocum, led her daughter to search for other “avenues” in pursuit of relief that ultimately led to her death.

While still grieving, Yocum praised the summit, and wants the community to be informed on the rising issue of drug-related deaths, so others can avoid the pain she endures.

“I’m so grateful for the people that came together today because I don’t want this to happen to you,” Yocum said, holding back tears.

“I don’t want you to live like this... and remember every day.”

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