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Kalispell mother joins Washington, D.C. rally on fentanyl crisis

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | September 22, 2023 12:00 AM

Lost Voices of Fentanyl is holding its third annual rally in Washington, D.C. this weekend and Flathead Valley residents will be in attendance.

As an advocacy group, Lost Voices of Fentanyl works to raise awareness and ultimately aims to end fentanyl-related deaths in the country. The rally on Sept. 23 aims to draw attention to the urgency behind the issue and calls for stopping drugs crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

For the Knapp family the rally is a way to draw more awareness to the issue while being with like-minded people.

Juniper Rose Knapp, 16, of Kalispell, died in March after accidentally taking a pill laced with fentanyl. Her mother, Julie Knapp, and her grandmother, Linda Fatland, along with a few other family members, plan on attending the rally in her honor.

“This is not a homeless person issue, it's not a street issue, it's a human issue,” Julie Knapp said. “We’re going to D.C. just to spread awareness at the Capitol but it's happening here at home too.”

The Knapp’s hope that change occurs both locally and nationally.

Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office earlier this year announced a nearly 11,000 percent increase in fentanyl seizures by anti-drug task forces in Montana since 2019, with three times the amount of fentanyl seized in 2022 as in 2021.

“We have the opportunity in this state to put the systems in place before it gets to be a problem because we know it's coming,” Knapp said.

The system is disjointed, Knapp and Fatland say. Around 1,000 people are expected to attend the rally, relying on one another and coming together to both grieve and demand change.

“It is a nationwide problem that needs attention, including victim advocates for the families, education in the school system and better training for the local police departments,” Fatland said.

The all-day event takes place at the Washington Monument. It features several speakers including Ohio Congressman Warren Davidson, journalist and author Gerald Posner and Derek Maltz Sr., a retired Drug Enforcement Agency executive.

“When you meet all these people in the same place fighting for the same calls, it's heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. It's difficult to explain. And it's pretty powerful, because our voices are never going away,” said April Babcock, the founder of the advocacy group.

She pointed toward the extremity of the situation, mentioning the recent tragedy in the Bronx, New York where four children came into contact with fentanyl at daycare. One child died and the three others fell ill.

“We go in front of the White House because our government is not doing nearly enough,” Babcock said. “And if they are, why is the death toll rising?”

A synthetic opioid, fentanyl was originally created as a painkiller for surgery but now dominates the illegal opioid supply, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just a small amount can prove to be deadly. If the user is unaware that the drug they bought has been altered and cut with fentanyl, it could easily lead to an overdose.

The rally will also feature members of Lost Voices of Fentanyl, who will be escorted by the police to the White House to present their concerns to President Biden.

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.

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