A tragic example of this comes in the story of Sammy Chapman, who I’ve discussed in previous blog posts. At the age of 16, Sammy died of a fentanyl poisoning in his home after buying drugs from a predatory dealer on Snapchat. Sammy, who thought he was purchasing Xanax, instead took a pill laced with illicit fentanyl. His parents found him unconscious and without breath on the floor of his bedroom.
Sammy’s story – and those of many other young people gone too soon – shows how easily teens have access to fentanyl-laced drugs through social media platforms. Apps like Snapchat have become online marketplaces, where unsuspecting teenagers seek recreational substances, unaware of the life-threatening dangers that lurk inside.
Sammy’s father, Sam, recently shared Sammy’s story at a law enforcement training event hosted by the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. The 50-minute discussion is certainly worth watching if your time allows.
One takeaway from this panel was reframing how we talk about these deaths. While it’s true that these types of deaths are caused by an overdose, it’s more accurate to refer to them as fentanyl poisonings.
By shifting the term from overdose to poisoning, we emphasize the intentional act of drug dealers or syndicates poisoning fake pills and selling them off market, rather than the accidental nature implied by "overdose.”
Sam strongly stated in the discussion: “This is murder.”
As fentanyl continues to tear apart families and communities, we need to consider a multi-faceted approach to save lives. A complicated problem may require a complex answer, and I’m encouraged by the work being done to prevent fentanyl poisoning. Organizations like Parents for Safer Children are advocating for changes at Snapchat to prevent drug dealers from preying on kids. Other nonprofits are creating awareness campaigns for both parents and teens. Law enforcement is continuing to crack down on fentanyl trafficking and drug sales.
HarborPath joins these efforts with another important piece to the puzzle – access to naloxone at arm’s length. Our Narcan Right Now initiative makes naloxone free to communities and individuals who may need it. Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is a medication that quickly reverses overdoses by blocking the opioid effects from the brain. It commonly comes in the form of a nasal spray that a layperson can administer to a loved one who has been poisoned by fentanyl – and save their life.
We are developing programs that allow the families of teens to acquire free naloxone to keep on hand. These efforts would also include emergency naloxone kits for areas like schools, concert venues, convenience stores and more.
Through collaborative initiatives, we can protect our teenagers from the perilous grasp of fentanyl and work towards a safer future for all.