As election looms, Kansas Republicans rally around fentanyl crisis

Governor announces federal funding for statewide opioid treatment

By: - October 7, 2022 10:31 am
GOP supporters at Topeka rally

Attendees turn out for a GOP rally Wednesday in Topeka in support of Derek Schmidt, the Republican nominee for governor. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — At national and local levels, Kansas Republicans are rallying around the issue of battling fentanyl to win over voters in a close race. 

During Wednesday’s GOP rally in Topeka, U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall told the crowd that, unlike Gov. Laura Kelly, Attorney General Derek Schmidt would take fentanyl off the streets. 

“We need a governor who supports law and order, and will keep our families safe, and who gets fentanyl off the streets and out of social media,” Marshall said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Legal fentanyl is prescribed for pain relief. Illegal fentanyl is commonly mixed with other drugs because it’s a cheap way to create a more powerful high. Because fentanyl isn’t detectable without a test strip, people taking fentanyl-laced drugs are at a greater risk of overdose. 

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall speaks at a Wednesday rally in support of Derek Schmidt. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall speaks at a rally Wednesday in Topeka in support of Derek Schmidt. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Marshall introduced legislation in September aimed at holding social media companies accountable for their role in fentanyl distribution. Marshall believes drug cartels are using social media such as TikTok to traffic fentanyl throughout the U.S. 

Schmidt, the GOP nominee for governor, blamed Kelly for rising fentanyl abuse in the state, saying that the “poison” was manufactured in China by a branch of the Chinese Communist Party and then shipped to Mexico, where it is “mixed up and put together by drug cartels” and then smuggled over the border.

Schmidt said Kelly wasn’t doing enough to help southern governors with immigration problems

“When she was asked for help by the border governors down on the southern border of the United States, she didn’t just say no,” Schmidt said. “She said they’re engaged in political games. That was her phrase.” 

Kansas Democrats have pushed back against Schmidt’s rhetoric. State Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, said Republicans needed to focus on the state’s fentanyl problem at the local level instead of talking about border issues. 

“I would challenge any Republican to tell me what Kansas can do about securing the border with Mexico. We have absolutely zero authority over that,” Probst said. “So for them to try to capture the fentanyl issue, which is a very real issue in our communities, and tie it to border security, it’s a dog whistle, because they can get people scared about immigration and tie it to fentanyl. And try to conflate those two issues.”

Probst also said Schmidt was silent about the fentanyl issue when Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would legalize fentanyl testing strips earlier this year. 

“You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little skeptical and jaded and cynical when I now hear Republicans talking about this as an issue they care about,” Probst said. 

During the rally, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said if elected, he would take legal action against President Joe Biden, saying his immigration policies opened the door for drugs brought across the Mexican border. 

“If Joe Biden comes up with yet another way to open our borders, to bring in more fentanyl to our streets, what are we going to do?” Kobach said, in a call-and-response with the audience. 

The audience chorused back: “Sue Joe Biden.” 

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner said Kansas, and the U.S. in general, was being swamped with illegal immigrants bringing fentanyl across the border. 

“The Border Patrol is being overrun right here in Kansas,” LaTurner said. “We’re dealing with this on a daily basis. The No. 1 killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 is fentanyl. Over 300 Americans every single day are dying of this. It’s pouring across our southern border, and this administration isn’t doing anything about it.” 

LaTurner’s statistics have not been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said leading causes of death among all American adults in 2020 were heart disease, cancer and COVID-19. Preliminary CDC data for 2021 shows a similar trend. 

Opioid overdoses are on the rise, though. CDC data for 2021 showed more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in a single year, with most of these overdoses involving opioids.

In 2021, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said that out of the 338 drug overdoses reported between Jan. 1 and June. 30 of that year, 149 were related to fentanyl or fentanyl analogs. The provisional report showed a 54% increase in fatalities from an overdose during the same six-month period in 2020.

A new report of child deaths across the state showed six fentanyl-related deaths in children under the age of 17 in 2020. 

Kelly announced a $17.2 million federal grant given to the state and the Kickapoo Tribe to address the opioid crisis on Thursday, a day after Schmidt’s comments. 

The funding will be used to treat opioid addiction and increase access to recovery support services, among others, with the goal of reducing opioid overdose deaths. According to the press release, recovery support services will go to those using prescription opioids, heroin, fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and psychostimulants.

“The opioid crisis impacts families across Kansas, which is why it’s critical that we make opioid treatment and prevention resources available in every community,” Kelly said in the news release. “This funding will help make that possible, and in doing so save lives and bring relief to struggling Kansans.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.