Science

California mother arrested after child dies of fentanyl overdose

A California mother has been charged with child endangerment after her 3-year-old son died of a fentanyl overdose earlier this year, police said Thursday.

On May 4, police received a call about an unresponsive child who was turning blue and not breathing at her home in San Luis Obispo. The fire department launched life-saving efforts and took the child to the hospital, but he never regained consciousness and was declared brought dead in the evening.

San Luis Obispo police launched an investigation into the child’s death and made a toxicology report. The police report said that the results, which came in mid-June, showed that the child had high levels of fentanyl in his body.

Police said they learned that the boy’s mother, 30-year-old Jennifer May Nieman, was the boy’s primary caregiver and was present when he died. The report said that after a month-long investigation, police determined that his “action allowed access to the fentanyl, which directly led to the death of the child.”

Officials have yet to specify how the child swallowed the illegal substance.

On November 8, police traced Nieman to San Diego and took him into custody.

He was taken back to San Luis Obispo and booked into the county jail under four charges – endangering child with major bodily injury, escalation to cause major bodily injury during a felony, of a controlled substance (methamphetamine). Possession and possession of a controlled substance (fentanyl).

Nieman’s bail is set at $505,000, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies fentanyl as a synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain—usually in cancer patients. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

The CDC said recent cases of fentanyl overdose are the result of illicitly manufactured versions of opioids sold on the illicit drug market. According to the agency, it is often mixed with heroin or cocaine, sometimes without the user’s knowledge, “to enhance its euphoric effect”.

Illegally made fentanyl deaths are on the rise — 18 times more deaths from illicit opioids in 2020, according to a CDC report.

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