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St. Louis-area child exposure deaths demand urgent attention

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – A 500% surge in child fentanyl exposure deaths has a child safety panel demanding your attention.

The warning comes from the St. Louis County Child Fatality Review Panel, a first-of-its-kind panel in the nation that gathers dozens of health professionals along with police and prosecutors.

Panel members meet every month to look at trends and search for solutions to dangers that are killing our children. This week, a staggering trend involving children exposed to fentanyl shook even the most seasoned professionals.

North County Cooperative Major Ron Martin called it “sickening,” while St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell added that it’s “100% preventable.”


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The safety panel, this week, reviewed the report from the Missouri Department of Social Services which warned that the scourge of fentanyl is impacting children who don’t even know what’s happening.

Take it from a 40-year veteran cop, who now works to protect children under DSS’s State Technical Assistance Team. Director Frank Tennant said, “Back in the 80s, I was an undercover narcotics guy during the cocaine war, and I’ve never seen a drug impact and kill people like fentanyl does.”

Tennant’s office measured a “500% increase in fentanyl exposure deaths of children under age five,” with the report identifying 20 child deaths (of children under five) linked to fentanyl in 2022.

Tennant added, “Those are children that rely on somebody else for everything, and they’re being exposed to this poison.”

Police officers on the panel, like Major Martin, attack from the streets. He said, “It’s so accessible. It’s just as easy to walk into a grocery store and get a gallon of milk than it is to go to a street corner and get a little fentanyl.”

Prosecutors like St. Louis County’s Wesley Bell look for solutions in court. He said, “We’re going to try to do everything we can to help them, but once they cross the line and harm people, particularly children, they’re going to have to be held accountable.”

Like a felony case his office has against Mary Anne Curtis. Court records in her case allege, “This may be the fourth infant to die as a result of the defendant.” Drug exposures are the alleged cause.

Bell added, “We cannot have that. We will not tolerate that.”

Martin added, “Everybody has to come to the table. We have to figure out a way to attack it.”

The safety panel is hoping publicity will make an impact, maybe discussing something so dark will save someone else.

Tennant commented, “One at a time. We don’t want them to fall through the cracks. So you know what: One grandma hears this and smacks somebody upside of the head and says get that poison out of the house. We saved one kid, and I’ll take that, one at a time.”

This year’s report also identified unsafe sleep practices as another increasing fatal hazard for children. To learn more about safety resources against fentanyl, click here.

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