Assistant Fire Rescue Chief, CHDS Alum Still Determined to Spread Fentanyl Thesis Findings

Since 2020, when Fort Lauderdale Assistant Fire Rescue Chief Tim Heiser graduated from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) Master’s Program, he’s been trying to disseminate the core message and recommendations of his thesis, “Pills, Powders, and Overdose: An Analysis of America’s Illicit Fentanyl Crisis,” on the background, dangers, and recommendations for battling fentanyl, a powerful and deadly synthetic opioid, which mimics morphine in the body. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that fentanyl is “50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S.”

Master’s Alum and Fort Lauderdale Assistant Fire Rescue Chief Tim Heiser

“It’s been so tough to get anything going, but things are moving more lately,” Heiser (MA cohort 1805/1806) said, pointing to the COVID-19 epidemic as a main culprit of hampering his public education efforts. Heiser explained that after initially engaging in an ambitious campaign to encourage hospitals and medical examiners to track fentanyl-related overdose deaths, he then moved to speaking engagements for first responders groups, including police and firefighter groups.

Now, he’s working toward breaking his thesis down into a series of articles for publication. His plan is to publish a seven-part series of articles in online blogs and print magazines, including the International City/County Management Association (ICMA)’s Public Management magazine, police and chief magazines, and local publications.

“The goal is to break it down and spoon-feed it in parts,” Heiser said. The series, he said, will serve as an educational tool, raising awareness and offering insights into combating the crisis, with references back to his comprehensive study hosted by CHDS’ Homeland Security Digital Library.

Heiser’s series includes articles spanning the origins of the fentanyl crisis and “tracing its evolution from a pain management solution to a dangerous street drug” to the risks of fentanyl exposure for law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS personnel, as well as how to use community-based strategies and a public health approach to addressing the crisis. In the battle against fentanyl, Heiser’s proposed innovative solutions include detection and treatment options.

When Heiser first began his research into fentanyl in 2018, he said even his fellow CHDS students, including police officers, were barely aware of the drug. Now, he noted, “it’s on the news all the time.” The Senate even passed a resolution in 2023, which designated August 21 as National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day, which was a grassroots effort by organizations and families affected by the drug.

However, Heiser said the news coverage tends to focus on the magnitude of the crisis—which claimed around 112,000 Americans to overdose deaths in 2023—and individual cases, but often fails to educate the public about the crucial details, including the drug’s potency and ubiquity, which includes its potential for widespread destruction. In September 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced H.R.5625, a bill also called “Fentanyl Awareness for Children and Teens in Schools Act” or the “FACTS Act,” to create a partnership between public schools and public health agencies. A related bill, S.3701, was introduced to the U.S. Senate in January 2024. Both were sent to sub-committees.

A fatal dose of fentanyl next to a penny

Heiser noted that a dose about the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny can kill a person, which is about 2 milligrams. At the same time, fentanyl is cheap and easy to access, and is commonly mixed with other street drugs (including heroin, cocaine, and marijuana), and counterfeit prescription drugs, such as Percocet and Viagra.

Heiser said there is a 7-in-10 chance that drugs purchased on the street will contain fentanyl, based on a DEA laboratory testing in 2023. He said those manufacturing illicit fentanyl, which are mainly two Mexican cartels using ingredients shipped from China, have no real ability to control the amount of the drug in their product, nor any idea how potent and potentially lethal it is, because it is such a powerful substance. He compared it to mixing the drug in with a bag of flour, shaking it up and baking cupcakes. Some of the cupcakes might be okay and some might kill you, said Heiser.

Furthermore, he believes most of the U.S. population believes those dying from fentanyl-related overdoses represent the “underbelly” of society, such as a person with a heroin addiction. But because of the proliferation of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, an overdose “could happen to anyone,” Heiser said. “You’re crazy if you take anything from anybody that you don’t know what it is,” he said. “You’re taking your life into your own hands. I’m trying to get the message out that [fentanyl] is out there and it’s Russian roulette.”

Heiser remains determined to keep educating those in his community and to take advantage of the opportunity to help spread awareness. “It’s amazing to me there’s not a broader [public] education campaign. The volume of fentanyl may have changed but my recommendations haven’t. . . . But I’m still passionate about this subject, and once I get rolling, it will get a head of steam.”

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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