THE FENTANYL FALLOUT: Miss Wyoming Contestant Warns About Dangers of Fentanyl

Laura Halley launches ‘Forever 25 Drug-Induced Homicide’ campaign in honor of family friend

Laura Halley is using her platform as a contestant in the Miss Wyoming pageant on Saturday to advocate for fentanyl awareness in honor of her family friend, Jordan Jackson, who died of fentanyl poisoning in January. (Courtesy photo from Laura Halley.)

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Laura Halley is determined to make a difference. As a contestant in Saturday’s Miss Wyoming pageant, the 22-year-old University of Wyoming graduate will highlight the dangers of illicit fentanyl and other laced drugs as her community impact platform in the competition. 

Halley’s inspiration hits close to home. A family friend, Jordan Jackson, died in January after ingesting half a pill he believed to be a prescription opioid. Instead, it was an illicit drug laced with fentanyl.

In honor of Jackson, who died at age 25, Halley named her initiative “Forever 25 Drug-Induced Homicide.” Miss Wyoming contestants are required to develop a community-impact project in advance of the June 24 pageant in Sheridan. If she wins, Halley will continue her project and compete in the Miss America 2024 pageant later this year.

As the title implies, Halley’s awareness campaign sheds light on the fact that these deaths are mostly homicides, as opposed to overdoses. In many cases, the individuals who purchased the drug – much like Jackson – had no idea what they were ingesting.

Laura Halley poses with her grandparents, Ruth and Richard Young, after winning the “Miss Winter Wonderland” title as an eighth grader. (Courtesy photo from Laura Halley)

“He [Jackson] was given pills that were laced with fentanyl,” she said. “He didn’t ask for that nor did he know what he was getting. This fueled my passion to try to educate others on the crisis and to help make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else.”

Halley has seen a handful of cases of fentanyl poisoning in her three months as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie. The patients, who were roughly between the ages of 20-55, survived because they sought medical attention in time.

She was also struck by a horror story one of her pharmacology professors shared with her class last fall: while trick-or-treating on Halloween, his children were given colorful candies that looked much like Skittles and that he identified as fentanyl.

“He brought it up in class because he wanted us to know it was out there,” she said.

It was a lesson that stuck with Halley; she knows her peers buy drugs off the street. Their drugs of choice tend to be marijuana or Adderall, an amphetamine-based stimulant prescribed primarily for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) flagged Adderall as one of the prescription drugs that are being sold as counterfeits laced with fentanyl. In September 2021, the DEA released a statement warning citizens that Mexican criminal drug networks were mass-producing fentanyl-laced fake pills, using chemicals sourced largely from China. The agency further warned these illicit pills appear nearly identical to legitimate prescriptions and are widely available for purchase on social media and through street dealers.

Halley believes many of her peers are unaware that they might be buying illicit fentanyl-laced drugs that could potentially kill them.

“It’s heavily present in our community,” she said. “A few UW students have been impacted. Adderall seems to be the up-and-coming drug with college students, and I want to help educate people about what’s out there and what they might be getting.”

In 2016, Laura Halley was crowned Little Miss Wyoming. (Courtesy photo from Laura Halley) 

Making an impact

Halley, who is originally from Torrington, became interested in beauty pageants at age 13 at the urging of several friends who were active on the pageant circuit. In eighth grade, she won the Little Miss Wyoming competition in the neighboring town of Wheatland. This prompted her to continue entering pageants that offered college scholarships.

“Even if you don’t win, you can be awarded different scholarships in different areas,” she said.

That appealed to Halley, as did the opportunity to meet contestants from across the country and world. As a sophomore at Torrington High School, Halley won the statewide Our Little Miss pageant and earned a spot in the World’s Our Little Miss competition in Reno, Nevada.

Though she didn’t clinch the title, Halley enjoyed the experience, which prompted her to compete for the Miss Wyoming crown as she continues her education. Halley graduated from UW last month with a degree in microbiology and has applied to doctoral programs for occupational therapy in Hawaii and Oklahoma.

Beyond the pageantry of competing for Miss Wyoming, Halley is most excited about honoring Jackson’s memory and educating her peers about the dangers of illicit fentanyl. As part of her outreach efforts, Halley plans to raise awareness through rallies, presentations at Wyoming schools, speeches and partnerships with state and national groups to discuss policy and other initiatives to help spread the word.

The idea that people are in enough pain to seek out drugs saddens her, but makes her even angrier that people willingly sell others potentially deadly drugs.

“They didn’t ask for it, so it’s not their choice,” Halley said. “They are not buying what they think they are buying, and I want to do my part in educating as many people as possible about the dangers of fentanyl.”

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