The culprit in the deaths of three Kansas City Chiefs fans was all too common


The deaths of three Kansas City Chiefs fans who froze to death captured the attention of murder mystery fans. Three men in their 30s all dying outside one home seemed implausible. Was it foul play? Poisoning? A plot?

The answer was simpler: They were killed, by a tragically usual suspect.

Autopsy results showed that each had fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid, in their systems.

The Kansas City men are hardly alone. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the overdose death rate for 2023 was 112,000 people, a new record. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl has driven the spike in fatalities.

From small towns to big cities, the illicit fentanyl market is creating chaos in communities and filling morgues. Some who died weren’t aware that they had taken fentanyl at all, since it was included in substances that were tainted with it. Others deliberately took fentanyl but ingested too much.

It is important to distinguish between poisonings and overdoses, says Gina McDonald, co-founder of the advocacy group Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Deaths.

Pure . . . and deadly

“One, you have a group of teenagers going online who think they’re buying drugs like Xanax to get high but not intending to take fentanyl, and their loved ones are finding them dead in their bedrooms,” says McDonald. “What we’re seeing on the streets is people seeking the purest form of fentanyl called Clean. They’re dying because it’s so strong.”

San Francisco is not just a microcosm of the problem, it’s the epicenter of the fentanyl trade. It’s unusually cheap and available in the city’s open drug scene, where hundreds of dealers and users gather every night in the Civic Center neighborhood.

The result has been a staggering number of deaths. In 2023, 806 people lost their lives from drug overdose and poisoning, a spike from the previous year’s 647. San Francisco’s Department of Public Health admitted that the majority of the fatalities were due to fentanyl.

Unlike the men from Kansas City, the names and stories of most of these San Franciscans have not been published or deemed a mystery. Instead, it is a single massacre caused by the influx of illicit fentanyl, most of which comes from precursor chemicals made in China, synthesized into fentanyl in Mexico, then sold on the city’s streets by criminal networks.

The millions who have illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico have magnified the crisis. In a Jan. 23 speech on the Senate floor, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said the US government is aware that cartels have been exploiting the open border, and have been working with China to flood communities with fentanyl.

Here’s the latest NYP coverage on the Kansas City Chiefs fans who froze to death

‘Not a healthy society’

On a local level, efforts at change are currently underway, which include greater law enforcement and prosecution. In 2023, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office was presented with and filed the most felony narcotics cases since 2018. Convictions are rising, and there is an effort to replace the Superior Court judges who have been lenient on drug dealers.

But the fentanyl deaths continue, in San Francisco, Kansas City and across the country. Harm reduction methods, from distributing foil and straws to addicts on the street to bringing people back to life when they overdose with hits of naloxone, are only maintaining the status quo. Few are getting better or pursuing recovery treatment.

To make a significant dent in the flow of fentanyl, McDonald believes that young people need to be taught about the dangers of purchasing substances online as part of school curriculum, but that ending the open drug scene is essential.

“It can’t be allowed,” she says. “They either need to go home, go to a shelter, or go to jail. This is not a healthy society. When you’re removed from your drug of choice, it’s harder to get, it’s harder to get high. That makes it harder to die.”

Erica Sandberg is a freelance journalist and host of the San Francisco Beat.


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