From a billboard to a Narcan vending machine, a Galveston Co. man is attacking the fentanyl crisis

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023
A former addict's crusade to stop Galveston Co. fentanyl deaths
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Les McColgin, a Galveston County man, is using a billboard and a unique vending machine to try and tackle a fentanyl crisis.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Galveston County man is using a billboard and a unique vending machine to try and tackle the fentanyl crisis.

Majority of overdose deaths in Galveston County linked to fentanyl

Galveston County is southeast Houston's escape from reality. While the beauty is easy to see why so many go there, there's another side generating headlines. On Christmas Day, Galveston police said two men died after taking drugs laced with fentanyl.

The Galveston County Medical Examiner's Office told ABC13, in 2021 and in the first 11 months of 2022, 138 people died from drug overdose. Fifty-six percent of those are link to fentanyl. It's a crisis that's led groups to make posters showing the faces of those who've died from the drug, as their smiling photos hide the pain their loved ones can't let go.

"The reality that something so small can take something so big, and the reality that there's such evil to do this," Janice Stahl, who lost her son to fentanyl, said.

"It's the worst pain that you could ever go through as a mother, and I don't wish it on anyone else," Sarah Chittum, who also lost her son to fentanyl, explained.

Chittum and Stahl lost their sons more than a year ago to drug overdoses. They are not only bonded by loss but by how it happened.

"He was the class clown whenever he was in school," Chittum recalled of her son, Seth Eckman. "Always laughing. Always smiling."

"He was a dad of two beautiful little girls," Stahl recalled of her son, Travis Moy. "A husband, a brother, a father, he was just everything."

Galveston County man on a mission to brig awareness about fentanyl

The grieving mothers turned to Les McColgin, who started Gulf Coast Outreach Services, in order to reach other parents, neighbors, and students.

"Most people don't have an idea of how bad this is," McColgin said.

His goal is to combat the fentanyl crisis, which is a problem he can also relate to because he's overdosed three times himself.

"I was never scared of any drugs," McColgin recalled. "Never. The stronger the better."

That's changed.

McColgin shares his fear with groups, and more recently with the local rotary club.

"One pill can kill," McColgin said. "That's the message."

He wanted to go beyond speaking engagements, so he created a billboard that flashes above the Gulf Freeway. McColgin pays $500 a month to reach as many drivers as he can.

"I prayed about it and I said, 'I need to do this,'" he recalled. "You see it, you get the message: 'Fentanyl kills. Narcan saves lives.'"

There's a unique vending machine where you can get the spray for free

About a month ago, McColgin had an idea when he stumbled into a family-owned pharmacy in La Marque and saw a broken vending machine.

"I guess it was a good investment that I bought a new machine," Hart Pharmacy owner, John Hart, said. "I didn't think something good would come out of something being broken like that."

SEE RELATED STORY: University of Houston researchers announce potential breakthrough vaccine against fentanyl

Hart allowed McColgin to use the vending machine to distribute free Narcan, a spray used during an overdose that can save someone's life. Anyone can walk inside Hart's Pharmacy and get a free box. So far, nearly 50 have been given out, including to a rideshare driver.

"I just thought he's really the hero of all of this, because he's going to take the responsibility on himself to administer it if he needs it," Hart said. "I'm just here passing it out."

Narcan vending machines could be coming soon to more locations

Hart's Pharmacy may be the start, but McColgin is trying to secure a $200,000 grant that he says will allow him to put as many as 30 Narcan vending machines across the county. If it's successful, he hopes it can be a model for across the country.

"This has to do with everybody," McColgin said. "This is not an isolated heroin addict sitting under the bridge. This is our kids."

"It actually gets harder," Stahl said. "I think the first year you're in shock. It's getting harder."

Grieving families say that awareness and free Narcan bring them comfort because in order to enjoy the county's beauty, you have to address what's causing people to drown in sorrow. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioids, or you want to learn more about fentanyl, visit the Texas Health and Human Services website.

SEE ALSO: ABC13 given rare access inside DEA lab fighting Houston's fentanyl crisis

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