MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under the age of fifty.

That’s according to Alabama’s 2023 Drug Threat Assessment. 

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it has killed people under the age of 50 at an alarming rate.

Melissa Hughes McAlpine says it’s still hard to talk about how her daughter Madison died. In 2020, at just 20 years of age, Madison died in a hotel room after unknowingly ingesting the drug fentanyl. The autopsy somehow ruled her death as an accidental suicide.  

“There were three other people there in the motel room where she was found, and her death was accidental suicide?” McAlpine asked. “How can a suicide be an accident?” 

McAlpine says that it was hard to recognize the signs of her daughter’s drug use. Madison gave birth to a child, but the child passed away at just three months old. The depression from the loss followed and sunk Madison further into her own world. 

“Just one thing led to another, but there’s drugs, and alcohol and heroin, and then you got fentanyl. That’s a whole different thing,” said McAlpine.

With fentanyl deaths on the rise, McAlpine wants to push for lawmakers in her district in Morgan County and the state to impose harsher penalties for those who peddle fentanyl as a street drug. 

“If you know that even a little snitch of fentanyl can be put in a needle and you know that a little bit can kill somebody, and you still want to give it to somebody because you want to make a dollar on the streets?” McAlpine explained. “Well, they can count that as murder to me. I think peddlers and dealers should be charged for murder with that.”  

In the last legislative session, Alabama lawmakers introduced a bill to impose mandatory prison times for distributing fentanyl. Right now, the Alabama threshold for trafficking in fentanyl is four grams but it takes less than that to kill a human.