Investigators have no leads or suspects in the death of a 10-year-old Miami boy from an apparent fentanyl overdose, the youngest known victim of the opioid crisis in the city, the police chief said Thursday.
Chief Rodolfo Llanes told reporters that Alton Banks must have encountered the drug during a one-hour period after he left a pool in the Overtown neighborhood and got home on June 23. Banks began vomiting at home, lost consciousness and later died at a hospital.
Llanes is asking anyone who saw the fifth-grader or encountered him during that time frame, between about 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., to come forward with any information.
"We don't know how he came in contact with this drug," Llanes said. "We don't have any working theories right now as to how he did that. That's why we need the public's help."
The chief said the death of such a young person from a drug overdose has shocked his department and much of the city.
"I think it's a tragedy. When you lose a child of this age, it really shocks all of our consciences," Llanes said.
Fire rescue officials say it's unlikely Alton would have overdosed simply by touching fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller long used to treat cancer patients and others suffering chronic pain, usually through a skin patch. They say the drug must be injected, inhaled or ingested to cause a fatal overdose in small amounts, even when the exposure is to a child.
"Absorption through the skin is a very, very slow method," said Craig Radelman, Miami deputy fire chief for operations. "You'd need such a large quantity."
The Overtown neighborhood, just north of downtown Miami, is ground zero for the city's opioid epidemic. Police said a total of 177 opioid-related deaths have been recorded in the city of Miami since Jan. 1, 2016, including 37 so far this year. Of the 2017 total, 32 involved fentanyl or its more powerful cousin, the large animal tranquilizer carfentanil.
Authorities have made 62 opioid-related arrests in Miami during the first six month months of 2017 and also seized 6 pounds of fentanyl before it reached street dealers.
Officials did have some good news, saying their use of Narcan has dropped 65 percent in the last six months - an indication, they say, that the epidemic is waning. They atribute it to more awareness about the dangers of the drugs and to the police department's aggressive targeting of fentanyl and heroin dealers.
Officials say parents should be extra vigilant to minimize the risk of a child's potential contact with an opioid such as fentanyl, especially in neighborhoods where the drugs are prevalent.
"When you're talking about children, it's just another poison," Radelman said. "The recommendation is that parents and children alike use what we call universal caution. Make sure they wash their hands with soap and water."