I’m changing topic today because my friend Jon said something on Sunday that I can’t get out of my head and I think all parents of teens and young adults need to hear: “We want our kids to be happy. We want our kids to be successful. But most of all we want them to be here.”
We spent Sunday evening at a celebration of life for Jon’s son, Cal. We met the Epsteins when our kids were in middle school and have been close friends ever since. Cal and his brother Miles are friends of Alex and Gabi, and our families have done everything from rec soccer to theater to hiking, fishing trips and cooking together over the years. In December, Cal came home from his first term at the University of Hawaii, did one dumb teenage thing, and joined a growing list of tragedies that didn’t need to happen.
I’m grateful that my family knew Cal. He was a bright spark with a quick smile and generous heart who lit up anything he was part of. I’m extraordinarily grateful for Jon’s and Jen’s courage in sharing their story because it’s reminded me of opportunities I have: the opportunity to hug my kids and tell them I love them, to help them grow into the people they’re becoming and envision all the places they’ll go on their journeys.
You’re here on my website because you care about your kids’ futures. Please take a moment not just to hug them and tell them you love them, but to read Jon’s story below and share it with them. Because happiness, success and bright futures are only possible if they’re here.
Cal’s celebration of life evening was beautiful; we sat together as a community in that special quality of summer evening light at our school where he learned and grew, as now we do from him. We scooped shave ice, took in his music, wrote and spoke memories, and held each other in aloha. His brother’s straightforward fraternal words, his cousins’ truths and and tears, the strains of his uncle’s uke accompanying his soulful voice, pained and seeking to find purchase amongst us. Jennifer shared from her heart, a flood of detail and love and joy and sadness in texture small and large, but still only the smallest portion of the intimacy and bond she forever holds with her son. We have deep gratitude to all those that came or sent caring words and thoughts and notes to help us mark the moment. Caley, I desperately do not want to say goodbye, but given no choice I am glad to have been able to do it In a way that honors and respects you. I am so proud of you my son.
What follows here is less warm. It’s long, it’s unpleasant, it’s uncomfortable, it marries my beautiful son’s face with cold charts and percentages. I wrote it recently and then set it aside to focus on celebrating the way Cal lived, not focusing on how he died. Now, I share it with you for an education on what is happening. Please read and share. It’s very important. I would not like to grieve like this again nor would I like any fellow parent to have to go through this ever; yet both are certain.
My friends, in case you were not aware of it already, the *fentanyl* problem in the United States is completely out of hand and all of you will be impacted by it in some way. This unfortunately appears to be a mathematical certainty given the current state of affairs and low level of public policy alarm made worse by COVID focus, negligence, ignorance and other less generously described reasons. This is not a problem affecting only those addicted or in recovery or high risk in some way. This is happening to kids of all circumstances. Pay attention.
My state, Oregon, has the highest growth of fentanyl related death in the country in 2020. California, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, even Texas are getting absolutely hammered as lethal fentanyl packaged in fake pills pour into the west. Vancouver, BC where my remaining living son goes to school is also reporting fake pill caused deaths. But it’s not only on the west; east coast, rust belt, south…everywhere is getting hammered.
There are many root causes, policy failures, global and local villains, politics past present and future. I don’t know where the highest leverage is at the moment. What I DO know is what’s right in front of me: many kids do not understand the risks, but may be very comfortable taking a pill bought over social media. They think it’s safe to get one Oxy/Xanax/Perc/Vicodin/Aderall pill. “I’ve taken it before.“ “No one gets hurt from one pill.” “My friend gave it to me and it’s safe.” Bullsh*t. They are unwittingly messing with fentanyl that is hundreds of times stronger than ‘hard drugs’, and there’s a solid chance they will die.
So if nothing else, WARN THE KIDS!:“NO PILLS UNLESS THEY COME FROM YOUR DOCTOR!“ Song for Charlie has resources for you to share directly, or to use to engage your local schools. This is the work Jennifer and I are throwing ourselves into to honor Cal and to save lives. Thanks
Today I celebrate the life of my forever 18 year old son. He passed in December 2020, but due to COVID, we could not gather until now. Today will be a day of celebration and I plan to put my drug awareness advocacy aside for today after sharing this message.
Drugs have taken a horrible human toll on our society through all the years of Cal’s life. Close to 1,000,000 Americans have died from drug induced causes in the last 20 years. All the gains we made from reducing drunk driving and other areas have been wiped out by drugs. School shooting are horrific, but gun deaths are swamped by drugs. And the lesser causes we spend so much time teaching our kids about so that in the moment of truth, when we’re not there to guide, we hope and pray they make a good choice: drownings, falls, suffocations, fire….see the chart for how Poisoning compares to other injury death mechanisms. Scary, awful, sad.
In aggregate, for the most part, the toll on our youth has risen right along with the rest of the population, always lower but parallel to the overall trend as you can see in the chart. As the opioid epidemic went from legit pharma squirreled out of medicine cabinets or overprescribed and sold…to the second wave of heroin, the gap widened probably due to less youth likely to choose such a hard dirty drug…at least that part of tv portrayal, school instruction, and parental talks had some fruits.
But the 3rd wave, fentanyl, is completely different. This cheap powerful and unlimited supply is driving the hockey stick of death you see…Legit pharma & heroin are flat, and fentanyl death is the new reality. Fentanyl is made illicitly from chemicals with no need for poppy farming and then sold disguised as legit ‘safe’ pills. But there’s simply no way to make a safe dose in a pill of something dosed in micrograms but pressed in forests and vacant buildings and garages with equipment bought on Amazon. Yes, many of these russian roulette bullets are going to our afflicted brethren desperately in need of their next fix. The failures of the last 20 years have brought them to this moment. Why not take something cheaper, stronger, and easier to get and assume you know how to dose it by vaping it or otherwise can beat the odds? I have deep empathy for those in this situation. They of course did not choose to be addicted.
But there is also a new victim of the epidemic, joining these others who also did not choose to die. These victims may show no signs of drug use. These victims could be your child, buying what they think is a ‘safe’ and clean Pharma over social media, identical on the outside to pills their parents have taken or maybe they have themselves after wisdom teeth removal. Oxy, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, even Adderall. ‘Friends’ on social media or actual friends tell them they’re safe. They use them just to have a little fun, or take the edge off, or to cope with the pressures of COVID and college and a socially distant but increasingly vacuous world. They are perhaps not the intended market, but are indeed being swept along in the fentanyl tide. Drug dealers are like the honey badger; they don’t give a sh*t.
Now we notice the national youth death rate trend stops diverging from that for all ages….and likely will close the gap and surpass it when the horrible death toll of 2020 and 2021 on all, but especially our youth, is counted.
In many states we can already see the death curve for youth rising faster than others, in part due to the #fentapill issue. The I5 corridor in the west has been especially hit as the illicit fentanyl and fake pills come up from Mexico. Kids simply do not understand the risks they are taking. It’s clear as day in attached California example. States like these portend what will come for others.
Every community is being hit, rural, urban, affluent, not, all races and genders, and demographics … This will be #1 health issue in the land when we are not fighting and talking about COVID. But kids are dying NOW. They are not aware. To not warn them in the face of these hard facts is practically criminal itself. If LA schools and health departments can look at these charts and NOT act, I would be amazed.
And most of this is evident without the latest 2020 data where we know it was worse (93k drug deaths, +29%, +54% fentanyl) and with what many say are under-reported CDC numbers.
My son was one of the 2020 victims of this scourge. Here is Cal’s story:
I am grateful to journalists such as Noelle Crombie, Nicholas Kristof, & Kate Snow highlighting these dangers. There are many political and complex aspects to this problem. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that we can all WARN THE KIDS. So today while I celebrate Cal’s life, a Mom in Colorado Springs mourns the loss of her 2 sons who took a fake pill and died together, and countless others mourn similar devastating losses..please find out how you can help warn unsuspecting youth. We must at least do that.