Fentanyl-laced pills — made to look like prescription oxycodone — after they were seized by law enforcement during a 2021 investigation into drug trafficking in Snohomish County. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Fentanyl-laced pills — made to look like prescription oxycodone — after they were seized by law enforcement during a 2021 investigation into drug trafficking in Snohomish County. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Everett mother’s fentanyl overdose death charged as homicide

Hundreds of people have died from fentanyl in Snohomish County in recent years. Homicide charges in those cases are rare.

EVERETT — Diane Brennis and Lindsay Mae Duff had a long texting history.

They would message about exchanging counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl, according to court documents.

At 10:53 a.m. on March 5, 2019, Brennis reportedly texted Duff, “Hey chica … I am ready for some more if you can.”

Duff replied, “Ok yep how many?”

Twelve hours later, Brennis, 48, passed out on the couch in her south Everett apartment. About six hours later, she was pronounced dead. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office determined she died from fentanyl exposure, according to court papers. While other drugs were present in her system, the medical examiner reported fentanyl was “head and shoulders” above the others.

Duff, 29, of Everett, was charged last week in Snohomish County Superior Court with controlled substance homicide.

A highly potent synthetic opioid that can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl has wreaked havoc in Snohomish County and across the nation in recent years. Of 251 fatal overdoses reported among county residents in 2019, 71 were from fentanyl, according to the medical examiner’s office. Of 303 in 2020, fentanyl caused 124. Of almost 350 last year, 155 were from the illicit drug. In one month late last year, 17 residents died from fentanyl overdoses.

So far this year, 51 overdose deaths have been reported. Fentanyl caused a third of them.

Leaders of Snohomish County fentanyl operations have faced hefty federal sentences in the past year, including 20 years for an Arlington man, 15 for a Marysville man and 10 for a Lynnwood man.

Across Washington, fentanyl use has surged to a “stunning” extent, according to University of Washington researcher Caleb Banta-Green, who led a 2021 survey of almost 1,000 people through syringe-service programs in the state.

Over 40% of respondents reported using fentanyl in the previous three months, according to the findings published in March. That’s up from less than 20% in 2019. Most often, the fentanyl was in pill form. And they were more likely to use it on purpose. A few years ago, most fentanyl use was unintentional.

The only drugs used more were methamphetamine, heroin and a mix of the two, according to the report.

The survey also found those who used fentanyl were more likely to have overdosed in the previous year than those who didn’t.

“I’ve been doing drug-trends research for 20 years, and fentanyl’s growth is the biggest, fastest shift we’ve ever seen — and also the most lethal,” UW scientist Banta-Green said in a statement.

‘Somebody please call me’

On March 5, 2019, Brennis told Duff she wanted seven pills, adding that she had $210, according to phone records. That was consistent with the $30 street value of counterfeit M30 pills at the time, noted deputy prosecutor Justin Harleman.

Duff reportedly agreed to the deal. Brennis responded with a kissing emoji. Just before 4 p.m. that day, Brennis asked what time would work. Around 9:30 p.m., Duff told Brennis she was at the south Everett apartment. Duff was with a child and didn’t want to wake him up, so she asked if they could make the exchange quick. Brennis texted back, “Course babe,” the last she’d ever send, according to the charges.

That night, Brennis and her roommate watched a movie together, the roommate told police. While they watched, Brennis left the room a couple times after checking her phone. Around 11 p.m., Brennis fell asleep on the couch. When the roommate woke up at about 4:30 a.m., he found her unresponsive in the same position on the couch. Investigators determined she took one of the seven pills she bought that night, according to court documents. The remaining six pills were found in her bedroom.

Detectives tested the blue M30 pills they recovered. The tests came back inconclusive, leading police to believe they contained fentanyl, Harleman wrote in the charges. A real Percocet pill would come back in the test as Percocet. A state lab confirmed the pills were fentanyl.

Duff and Brennis met through the victim’s daughter, her roommate told investigators. The daughter had recently died from a drug overdose, too. The roommate reported Brennis had only recently opened up to him about her own addiction.

In the days after Brennis died, Duff reportedly left a couple handwritten notes on the door of her apartment.

“Somebody please call me,” the first note read, according to court documents. “I heard about Diane through the grapevine. I was just with her briefly last night. We have gotten extremely close since (her daughter’s death). PLEASE someone reach out to me so I too can try and get some closure- I will help in any way I can.”

Duff signed the note “Lindsay.” In the second note, according to the charges, Duff wrote she promised Brennis’ daughter that she’d never let Brennis “be totally alone in this world after (the daughter) passed, this is extremely hard for me to deal with at this point in my life.” She left her phone number at the end of the note.

The roommate gave the notes to police. A detective called Duff’s number.

The detective explained the situation to her. Duff told police she was trying to help Brennis, according to court papers. The detective said investigators were looking into the source of the pills as a controlled substance homicide. Duff reportedly got defensive and asked if she needed a lawyer.

Prosecutors did not object to Duff remaining out of custody. Her arraignment is set for March 17.

Duff has over a dozen misdemeanor violations, ranging from theft to possession of drug paraphernalia to loitering, according to court papers. Her only felony conviction was in 2013 for possession of heroin, a drug charge the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last year.

Controlled substance homicide is a rare allegation in Snohomish County. When a Marysville man was charged in late October in the death of a 24-year-old for dealing him fentanyl-laced pills, it was the only such case prosecutors had filed here in the past year.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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