Opioid Crisis Reverberates in Utah, Illinois and Beyond

Front-page stories in the Deseret News and Chicago Sun-Times

Over the weekend, The Deseret News launched a series about “Utah’s opioid epidemic” with a Sunday front-page look at the rise and fall of Aaron Shamo. The twentysomething former Bitcoin trader is accused of using AlphaBay, a portion of the internet’s so-called darknet, to peddle fentanyl-laced pills. Fentanyl, developed in the 1960s as a treatment for cancer-patient pain, is considered 100 times more powerful than morphine. From the article:

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. When the data comes in for 2016, overdose deaths are expected to exceed 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. [U.S. Attorney for Utah John] Huber and others on the front lines of the drug war trace much of this to the rise of fentanyl.

“Think of Dodger Stadium, seats more people than just about anybody,” said Rusty Payne, the spokesman for the DEA. “Fill that whole place, pack it with people. We lost more people to drug overdoses than you can squeeze into Dodger Stadium, in 50 states in one year. That is extraordinary.”

Per a note accompanying the online posting of the Deseret News story, reporter Jesse Hyde was helped by summer intern Parker Atkinson. Shamo’ sister called her brother late Thursday night at the jail where he is currently housed and read him the story line by line.

Meanwhile, although Chicago these days is typically associated with gun violence, the Sun-Times, on the same Sunday, June 25, reminded that another scourge—fentanyl–is claiming many local lives. Including that of Cook County correctional officer Michael Raines, who overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin in 2015.

According to the piece, Raines’ spiral may have started, like so many of today’s opioid overdose cases, rather innocently:

He’d also aggravated an old back injury suffered years earlier in a car crash, according to a source who said that, during his recovery, Raines was prescribed painkillers. When he couldn’t get a prescription refilled quickly enough, he turned to heroin, the source said.

MSNBC West Coast anchor Jacob Soboroff reported this month on the opioid crisis. This morning, he appeared on Morning Joe to discuss what he discovered.