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Woman raises awareness about rise in opioid-related deaths

Posted at 8:44 PM, Sep 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-24 20:44:44-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Kelly Whalen remembers her nephew Derrek Martilla who dreamed of becoming a musician. But before he could realize that dream, Whalen said he got hooked on opioids after a back surgery, and then overdosed in 2016. Now, every year she and Martilla’s mom host a vigil to remember those who died because of an addiction.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by about 60 percent from 2017 - 2018. 834 deaths were reported between January and June of 2017. That number jumped to nearly 1,300 around the same time in 2018.

“There’s too much of it coming into our [Lee] county, and It’s too easily accessible to get and that’s got to stop,” said Whalen.

She applauded Lee County Sheriff’s Office for arresting Patrick Burdette over the weekend. Deputies said he had nearly two grams of fentanyl in his possession. Florida Gulf Coast University criminal justice professor Pamella Seay said that amount could be deadly.

“Certainly doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you realize that three milligrams can kill you, and you examine that. 60 people would be dead from that one tiny little bit,” she said.

LCSO also said Burdette had about half a gram of meth when they arrested him. Deputies didn’t charge Burdette with selling those drugs, but Seay said she’s seen cases where dealers mix drugs.

“The dealers are adding fentanyl to other drugs to increase the potency and to save themselves some money,” she said.

Whalen started Derrek’s Mission foundation after he passed away, and said she has has a message to dealers.

“I don’t know if they understand or not, but they are destroying families, everywhere. Not just here, but it’s everywhere,” she said.