McKinney resident Ivan Rojo overdosed three times on fentanyl.

It was after the 25-year-old’s third overdose and waking up in a hospital bed with his mother and a state trooper by his bedside that he said he decided to pursue sobriety.

“All I knew was I loved drugs,” he said. “Drugs were my everything.”

He said he was a little more than three months sober, as of early June.

As the number of opioid overdoses rises across Texas and the U.S., Collin County officials are taking a proactive approach by raising awareness in the community.

Fentanyl-related deaths have increased in Collin County during the last four years. More than 70 deaths in 2022 were reported with some amount of fentanyl in the bloodstream, according to the Collin County medical examiner. That was a sharp increase from 2019, when the medical examiner found fentanyl in the bloodstreams of 11 people who died.

The Coalition for McKinney Drug Free Youth met May 12 to talk about the dangers of fentanyl with community members and hear from Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner.

“We’re trying to do what we can here in Collin County,” Skinner said during the May 12 meeting.

The coalition is a collaborative effort working with schools, parents and youth organizations, elected officials, law enforcement agencies, businesses, chambers of commerce, civic groups, and faith-based organizations that are dedicated to creating a healthy community, according to the organization’s website. Its goal is to reduce or prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs by the youth in McKinney.

Skinner said fentanyl use continues to increase in the county, and one way to help is to continue to discuss and educate the community about the drug.

McKinney resident Michael Land lost his son Preston Land to acute fentanyl poisoning in 2021. He spoke during the Drug Free McKinney event and at the May 12 panel by Potter’s House of North Dallas, a church located in east Frisco. He recalled how Preston struggled with depression and isolation while he was in high school.

“That night that he took that pill, I don’t know what he was struggling with,” Land said. “He got a bad pill.”

A national crisis

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid comparable to pain relievers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It’s most commonly found posing as “Blue M30” pills. Drugs containing fentanyl are most commonly purchased through social media apps, such as Snapchat, Instagram, Telegram and Whatsapp, according to law enforcement officials.

Texas has seen an increase of more than 500% in fentanyl-related deaths since 2019, according to Texas Health and Human Services data. Across the U.S., three out of four overdoses involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, during that time, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

As little as two milligrams of fentanyl can cause a lethal overdose, according to DEA data.

“When they make these pills, there really is no quality control in how much fentanyl is in a given pill,” Skinner said. “We almost don’t find any of the other drugs that are not in some way impregnated with fentanyl, so that makes them especially dangerous.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan for over-the-counter sales in March, according to a March 29 news release. Narcan is a 4-milligram naloxone nasal spray that can be used to reverse drug overdoses.

Narcan, when applied, can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin, morphine, methadone and fentanyl, according to the CDC. The treatment is temporary, and someone who is overdosing should still seek medical attention, even after applying Narcan.

It can now be sold and stored on the shelves of pharmacies, grocery and convenience stores, gas stations, and online shopping sites across the U.S., according to the news release.

Approval of the nasal spray will help improve access to naloxone and help reduce opioid overdoses across the country, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said.

“The FDA remains committed to addressing the evolving complexities of the overdose crisis,” Califf said in the news release. “As part of this work, the agency has used its regulatory authority to facilitate greater access to naloxone by encouraging the development of and approving an over-the-counter naloxone product to address the dire public health need.”

The Texas Legislature also considered a series of bills meant to combat rising overdose numbers.

Responding locally

GraceToChange, a McKinney-based Collin County addiction center, works with families and addicts fighting against fentanyl, Founder and Executive Director Shannon White said.

Fentanyl has become more prevalent in the work happening at GraceToChange, White said.

"That’s one of the startling things that people have a hard time understanding. People have been able to get addicted to fentanyl,” she said. “It’s becoming much more prevalent.”

GraceToChange offers rehabilitation, addiction counseling and community support for those with addiction. It is an outpatient center that caters to adults and adolescents, White said.

“Our method is we try to teach people how to live without drugs,” she said.

"People don’t want to discuss fentanyl because of the stigma associated with it, but education is one of the best ways to evoke change, White said. “Don’t be afraid to talk about it; education is power,” she said.

Beyond education, White said every person, no matter their relationship to addiction, should have Narcan available in case of an overdose.

“[Fentanyl is] literally in every drug,” she said. “There is no illicit drug that is safe from fentanyl.”

Narcan can be safely administered to people of all ages and will not harm someone if they are not overdosing from an opioid, according to the CDC.

Collin County deputy sheriffs have seized increasing fentanyl quantities on North Texas highways the last several years, Skinner said in an email. Collin County has seen a 1,032% increase in fatal fentanyl poisonings from 2018 to 2022, according to Collin County Medical Examiners data.

“Because of the nature of transnational criminal organizations, cartels and illicit drug trafficking, there’s no way to track illicit fentanyl,” Skinner said.

Instead, law enforcement officers try to intercept smuggling vehicles along the highways while the sheriff’s office watches other statistics, such as overdoses and overdose deaths.

Two criminal investigators at the sheriff’s office have been assigned to work on drug cases, including cases related to fentanyl. In a fentanyl overdose case, they will try to identify the victim’s source and make an arrest, Skinner said.

“Since August 2022, they have investigated eight fentanyl-overdose cases, and they have arrested three suspects and seized cash from one suspected dealer,” he said.

Be prepared

If a person needs pain medication, they should talk to a physician or a health care provider, Skinner said. People should not borrow from or exchange prescription medication with others.

“A person should not buy medication online, except from a reputable source,” he said.

Those in need of medication can locate state-licensed online pharmacies across the U.S. via the FDA’s BeSafeRX online database. The website also provides tips and resources for consumers interested in purchasing medications online.

Rojo’s mother Rachel Shaw said she is a “big believer” in a parent being involved in a child’s life.

Even in sobriety, Narcan is a constant presence at home, she said.

All parents and caregivers should keep Narcan on hand, in their homes and cars, Shaw said. Even parents who think, “not my kid,” should be proactive in keeping an eye out for drug paraphernalia items, she said.

“It’s better to be prepared,” she said. “You never know when you need it.”

Shaw started a Facebook group called North Texas Moms of Addicts as a way to help raise awareness of drugs and fentanyl but also a way to remove the stigma on those conversations, she said.

Rojo, who has a 3-year-old daughter, carries Narcan with him, he said. But, his goal is to never need it. His addiction led to him not being able to see his daughter every day and led to the separation from his daughter’s mother.

“Fentanyl took my family away from me,” he said. “My addiction took it away from me because I guess I loved it more.”