The Rio Grande Valley Republican Women, alongside Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz, hosted an informative panel in Edinburg on fentanyl and its dangers as an epidemic. Panel members at the RNC Conference Center included Sandra Bagwell, Mission Chief of Police Cesar Torres, and DPS Lieutenant Chris Olivarez.
Fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid, is a drug that is “50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine,” according to Texas.gov. Illegally manufactured fentanyl may be mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit pills, leading to accidental poisoning.
Bagwell, who lost her son to fentanyl poisoning after he took pharmaceutical pills from Mexico, started off the panel that evening, advising that parents should educate their children on the dangers of fentanyl through videos and documentaries.
“I believe it’s never too young to educate your child on fentanyl,” she said. “Because it can happen at any age.”
In 1999, an average of 2,000 people died from fentanyl poisoning. In 2015, that number skyrocketed to 33,000. From 2021-2022, over 100,000 lives were taken by the drug, according to a statistic shared by Master of Ceremonies John Rodriguez Jr.
To keep track of the drug epidemic and substances seized under the Mission Police Department, Chief Torres said that the department meets with local and state agencies such as the FBI, HSI, DA, Homeland Security, and Border Patrol.
“Fentanyl drug poisonings are a very serious issue,” he said. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the game. And we do that by partnering with each other, talking about the issue, working programs to ensure that we can keep people safe.”
Just this year, the Mission PD has seized over $9 million worth of drugs; 3,000 pounds of cocaine, 7,000 pounds of marijuana, 6,000 pounds of meth, 32,000 pounds of Vicodin, and 202 pounds of fentanyl.
Lt. Olivarez thanked everyone in attendance, stating that showing up to events like these helps law enforcement spread the word about a dangerous and ongoing issue.
“Last year, we lost over 21,000 Texans due to fentanyl poisoning,” he said. “That’s about five Texans a day that we’re losing.”
The DPS Lieutenant also stated that fentanyl is not addictive — and that most die from poisoning.
“They’re being deceived. They don’t know what’s in the pill,” he said. “It’s being placed in drugs, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine. They lace these drugs with fentanyl. That’s why people are dying.”
Despite fentanyl being a problem in larger cities, Olivarez assures the public that it is happening each day in the Rio Grande Valley.
“It’s getting across through ports of entry. It’s being smuggled in body carriers,” he said.
Just last month in Cameron County, 12 people experienced fentanyl poisoning and overdose, with eight of those individuals passing away.
“It’s here right now,” Olivarez said. “The threat is here.”
With bills such as Tucker’s Law, also known as House Bill 3908, signed by Gov. Abbott in June of this year, education on fentanyl awareness and prevention is coming to classrooms for grades six through 12.
Chief Torres also emphasized that mental illness is a factor that leads to substance abuse and fentanyl usage. He urged that mental health is a critical topic in the panel.
“Everything comes back to mental health,” he said. “It affects everyone.”
With opioid usage, the work of this panel, and awareness events surrounding the opioid epidemic, activists and law enforcement hope that there is prevention through education.
“It’s a crisis that’s affecting our area, and we felt it was important to inform our constituents, our members,” said Rio Grande Valley Republican Women president Della Perez Rodriguez.