Mom of fentanyl overdose victim sounds alarm amid TBI’s new warnings

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Every day, Mimi Harder thinks about her son Shelby: his love for animals, learning and family.

“He took his brother on rides on the green line. They’d ride to High Point Grocery and get chocolate milk,” Harder said.

But halfway through high school, Shelby began to change. His mom said he fell in with a different crowd.

“About a month or so into his junior year we got notice he was failing his classes, which was not like him. We went through his room and found all the paraphernalia,” Harder said.

Shelby battled addiction for years. He died in March of this year from an overdose. He was 20 years old.

He overdosed on a combination of heroin and fentanyl, a potent painkiller that can be deadly even to the touch.

“This fentanyl, it’s killing everybody, thousands,” Harder said. "It was a mix of heroin and fentanyl and it was mostly fentanyl."

In fact, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is now sounding the alarm about fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

The TBI announced Friday that for the first time ever, their labs found fentanyl present in cocaine.

“This changes the game. It proves a serious risk now that applies to recreational drugs beyond opioids,” TBI agent TJ Jordan said. "What they’ll do is use cutting agents to expand the amount they have. In essence, they're increasing their profit.”

For Harder, it’s another painful reminder. But she’s determined to sound her own alarm.

“If you notice any change in behavior, urge them to be open and honest about getting help,” she said.

She knows it won’t bring back her son, but she hopes it can save another life.

Since fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin, police officers are also at risk of an overdose when they investigate drug cases. A Memphis Police officer was recently rushed to the hospital under similar circumstances.

Local agencies including West Memphis Police have opted to stock all officers with Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, to protect them.

MPD does not assign Narcan to all patrol officers.