Morgan County Sheriff’s Office deputies and emergency responders have been carrying Narcan, an opiate antidote, in their vehicles since fall of 2016, but haven’t had to use it until an almost fatal overdose death last week.
“This should be a warning to the community. We didn’t have a funeral this week. We were lucky,” said Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Dudley. “I hope all in the Morgan community will take this warning to heart.”
On March 31 during Morgan schools’ spring break, a 17-year-old Morgan High School junior ingested half a pill of a synthetic opioid, which nearly took his life had County Emergency Services Director Ian Nelson not administered Narcan while deputies operated the Automated External Defibrillator (AED). The synthetic opioid contained fentanyl—associated with the drug “pink”—which was similar to the substance that killed teens in Park City last year.
The Morgan teen’s father found him passed out and struggling to breathe after taking half a pill. When deputies arrived, the teen had no heartbeat before they administered an opiate antidote Narcan, which helped him regain consciousness in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Deputies are calling it a miracle.
Investigation of the Morgan incident lead deputies to the person who provided the drug. After obtaining a search warrant, deputies searched Parker Lewis Pentz’s Morgan residence and removed marijuana, meth and cocaine. They also found lists of transactions and names of people Pentz had been selling to, most of whom were Morgan residents, Dudley said.
Morgan County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Pentz, 20, Sunday in connection with distribution of drugs that resulted in an overdose and near death of the 17-year-old teenager. Pentz was arrested and booked into jail on child endangerment, reckless endangerment, possession of a controlled substance, use or possession of drug paraphernalia, distribute/offer/arrange distribution of a controlled substance, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
“Every community in America has a drug problem because drugs are abused in every community. Morgan is no different. If one kid is abusing drugs, I define that as a drug problem,” said Dudley, the father of six. “We have users, addicts and dealers in Morgan. Drugs are nothing new in Morgan schools, although many people have been in denial of this fact. Drug use among Morgan students appears to be increasing as controlled substances become easier to obtain and the social stigma of their use becomes less and less.”
The stigma is being stripped as marijuana becomes legalized in neighboring states, Dudley said. But, he warns, the marijuana of today is more potent and dangerous than the marijuana parents may have played with in college 30 years ago.
“Parents should be worried as society becomes more acceptable of drug use,” he said. Dudley said parents should be looking for dramatic turns in their children’s behavior, trouble at school, or unexplained absences that may tip them off to drug use. “It paints a picture, and may be an indication that their child is headed in the direction of drug use. Be serious about it.”
Dudley said he is thankful for the recent press coverage of the near overdose death and jailing of a local dealer in order to bring community awareness to the drug problem here. “This should alert people, and bring to light what we’ve known and been working on,” Dudley said. “We want the community to know the danger. These dealers are pushing things that are deadly,”
Illegal opioids often look a lot like Oxycodone or hydrocodone, or even Adderall pills, Dudley said, and may even be stamped with the same labels on the pill surface. These illegal opioids, such as those that come from China, do not go through quality control and therefore potency in one pill may differ from potency in another. Therefore, you never know what you are going to get, Dudley said.
“It might be a one and you’re done. It could kill you. It is like playing Russian roulette,” he said. “Parents need to talk to their kids about that. They need to have that talk. If it is not prescribed to you by a doctor and you don’t pick it up from a pharmacy, stay away from it.”
While Morgan deputies have arrested a number of local drug dealers in recent years, the demand for illegal drugs just doesn’t go away and other dealers will move in to fill the void. “As long as there is demand for drugs, there will be dealers,” Dudley said.
The sheriff’s office does not plan to charge the 17-year-old. “The consequences of his actions outweigh anything the law could do to him,” said Dudley, who said that law enforcement has some discretion on charges. He noted that Pentz received charges because “the dealer didn’t nearly die.”
Dudley and other Morgan deputies know that the Morgan outcome could have been a lot worse.
In September, two 13-year-olds died after overdosing on “pink” in Summit County. After a felony distribution charge was dropped as part of a plea deal, a 15-year-old suspect connected to the deaths was sentenced to 90 days’ probation, 80 hours of community service, a $175 fine, and random future drug testing.