One by one, faces flashed on the video screen above the stage inside the performing arts center at Liberty Hill High School on Thursday night.
“All the young people you’ve just seen have three things in common,” Becky Stewart said. “They’re all teenagers, they’re all dead and the reason they are is fentanyl poisoning.”
Liberty Hill resident Stewart lost her son Cameron to the same fate in March 2021 after ingesting a pill he thought was Valium but was instead mixed with fentanyl – a deadly drug that mimics the effects of popular street narcotics, but is much cheaper to produce – and more dangerous.
After her son’s death, Stewart founded ‘A Change For Cam’, an initiative to raise awareness about fentanyl so other families may not have to deal with the loss she suffered. and that night she sponsored an event called “One Pill Can Kill,” a roundtable bringing together law enforcement, emergency services and the medical field with one goal in mind: to educate.
“Fentanyl is an extremely difficult topic,” Stewart said. “But it’s one that’s very important.”
The event was moderated by KXAN-TV investigative reporter Arezow Doost, who has three children in the Liberty Hill ISD, extensively covered the growing problem of fentanyl in Central Texas and said a watershed moment for her was when the demographics of drug victims took a dramatic turn.
“In 2018, something changed dramatically,” Doost said. “The families of the victims started looking different – it wasn’t something you would see in downtown Austin anymore, but in the suburbs and calls to the poison control center about fentanyl doubled, it’s so a conversation that needs to happen.”
Difficult to detect
Gina Giachetti of the Drug Enforcement Agency said the threat on the streets is constantly evolving.
“We have already heard of another, even more powerful drug,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before he appears.”
Fentanyl is pressed and stamped with the same marks as the genuine item – be it Valium, OxyContin or Xanax – and is sold and sold by dealers as such, to be the substitute only. mortal.
“The market is adapting quickly,” Giachetti said. “Fentanyl comes in all shapes, colors and sizes and they’re so real these days that the only way to know what they really are is once we collect them from our labs.”
Eradicate the source
According to Cedar Park Police Sgt. Justin Miller, local law enforcement has stepped up efforts to eliminate the ever-growing problem.
“We’ve been very aggressive in pursuing dealers,” said Miller, who is with the department’s organized crime unit. “But it’s not just about enforcing the law – the community as a whole needs to be educated about the dangers.”
One of the most effective methods dealerships use to reach customers is through social media, Miller said.
“They’ll use emojis to represent certain things,” he said, of symbols like a soccer ball, snowflake, or school bus, to name a few. “In 14 years in law enforcement, it’s the deadliest drug I’ve seen – as little as a third of a pill can kill someone.”
“Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare”
Stewart then told the audience the story of the day Cameron died.
“We were supposed to meet on a Saturday,” she said. “But, after I couldn’t reach him the night before – you know how teenagers are – I was expecting to get a text from him in the middle of the night. But I woke up at 2 a.m. and there was nothing, then the same thing at three and four o’clock and then my instincts as a mother kicked in and I knew something was wrong.
Stewart’s worst fears were about to come true.
“Later that morning we went to his apartment and there was no answer when we knocked on the door,” Stewart said. “So we went to the apartment manager and they said they couldn’t let us in, so we called Leander Police Department and they couldn’t come in either without cause. Eventually we contacted Cameron’s roommate who was at work and he came over and opened the door.”
What happened next will forever be etched in his memory, Stewart said.
“The police came in while we were waiting outside,” she said. “When one of them came out, I’ll never forget the look on the officer’s face when he said to me, ‘I’m sorry your son is gone.’ It’s something you can’t ignore and in that moment your whole world transcends into another dimension – you have a numb feeling that it’s not real.
Unfortunately for Stewart and her family, it was all too real, as the 19-year-old Cedar Park High School graduate had been fatally poisoned by fentanyl.
However, the end of Cameron’s life was the beginning of Stewart’s crusade against drugs which took his son away from him.
“I couldn’t just sit back and let Cameron’s death be a statistic,” she said. “But, as a mother, what could I do to make a difference? I couldn’t go after the bad guys myself, so I had to find another way to honor my son.
Fentanyl is entirely synthetic in nature – as opposed to plant-based drugs such as opium, heroin and cocaine – which means it can be mass-produced without the myriad factors that can delay the production of traditional drugs, said Daniel Sledge, of the Rock Fire Department’s Crisis Response Unit Cycle.
“Fentanyl can be made in the lab, made up of just chemicals,” he said. “There is absolutely no economic impact like with other drugs where weather, for example, can affect crop growth. Manufacturers can do endless supply, which is scary.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of fentanyl – in terms of how it is made – is the lack of quality control that exists, unlike traditional pharmaceutical factories where the dosages in each pill made are closely monitored and controlled.
“There are what we call ‘hot spots’ in the batches and the pills,” Sledge said. “You can split a pill, split it, and one person can overdose while the other doesn’t.”
Sledge used a cooking analogy to illustrate the unpredictability of fentanyl manufacturing.
“It’s kind of like a batch of chocolate chip cookies,” he says. “You have cookies where the chips are evenly spaced – you know, like the ones you see on the cover of the magazine – and then there are those where the chips are clumped together and concentrated in particular areas – that’s what makes fentanyl so risky.”
medical point of view
The last panel member to speak was Dr. Mark Janes, who began by addressing the exact genesis of the problem.
“The first thing we have to ask ourselves is ‘Why do kids turn to drugs in the first place?'” he said. “Well, it could be any number of reasons, including depression and anxiety, and these kids are using drugs to get some kind of relief.”
One way to reduce potential problems at the cervix is for parents to be vigilant in monitoring behavior.
“We have to pay attention to various warning signs,” Janes said. “Things like avoidance, isolation, panic attacks and also substance abuse – because they go hand in hand with each other.”
Stop the tragedy
Naloxone – more commonly known as Narcan – is a nasal medication that quickly stops the effects of an opioid overdose by restoring normal breathing, is available at pharmacies without a prescription, and is a first-line defense against fentanyl poisoning.
Liberty Hill ISD schools have Narcan on hand for emergency use and school nurses and police are trained to administer the drug, which can ultimately mean the difference between life and death.
Liberty Hill ISD Police Officer Jason Wolf said the event served its purpose.
“I’m delighted with the turnout we had tonight,” he said. “But it was definitely a team effort – it feels good to be part of something like this that can make a difference in people’s lives.”
Superintendent Steve Snell added events like this that fit right in with the District’s number one priority.
“We are always looking for ways to educate our students about the dangers of drugs,” he said. “Our main goal is to stop kids starting because it’s hard to stop, so the more education we can provide to students and their parents, the better.”