CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) – Dwayne Stewart swiped left on his phone and there was a reminder.
“He said Cameron’s text,” Dwayne recalled. “And I’m sitting here for myself,‘ why in the world would I be there? “
He often wrote text messages with his young son, but the reminder was from months before Cameron’s death.
“I just did it. I sent him a text message. I said, “I love you, buddy,” put a lot of hearts in afterwards, “Dwayne explained.” Sometimes I have to play like I’m still here, just to get through the day. ”
The Stewart family lost Cameron in March. Her vibrating son with an amazing smile had left overnight.
They explained that they had tried to get there, but after not answering text messages and calls, they worried and went to their Leander apartment.
They said the toxicology results showed the 19-year-old died after taking a fentanyl-bound Valium pill.
He had gone to bed and had never woken up.
Education is key
“I only lit up a room when I walked in,” her mother Becky said. “He was a great academic student. He was an amazing athlete. It was an obstacle. ”
Recently, the Stewart family shared their grief with KXAN researchers hoping to help other families.
“Nothing will be the same for us. And that’s what I want to let parents know that this can happen in a split second. You’re with your son or daughter the day before and they’re gone the next day, ”Dwayne said.
The family now has a mission called “A Change for the Camera” and hopes to be able to teach students about the dangers of counterfeit pills.
They recently began talking to nonprofits, such as Song for Charlie, which raises awareness about fake fentanyl pills and Austin schools about their implementation on the curriculum.
“They have to be aware, because these people who sell these pills don’t care at what age they sell them,” Becky said. “And if someone walks into school with money for lunch, $ 10, they can buy him one or two pills.”
The story of Cal
The Stewarts tragedy has been heard across the country. Thousands of miles away, the Epsteins experience pain.
The Oregon family lost their 18-year-old son Cal in December.
“It simply came to our notice then. Before, children made mistakes and learned from them. With fentanyl, if you make a mistake, you will die, ”Jennifer Epstein said in a video posted on the Beaverton School District website.
Jon, Cal’s father, said in the video that he had returned home from Christmas from college and one morning they found him unanswered. He explained that Cal thought he was taking an OxyContin and ended up taking fentanyl.
“The best we can say was he looked for some Oxy at the street vendor,” Jon said. “Cal had long-term plans, he had short-term plans. By no means do I want to convey that I recommend for the mother to be inactive. We are sure of that. ”
False and fatal
Parents partnered with their Beaverton school district, one of Oregon’s largest, after the loss of several students in the past 18 months.
“We felt compelled to do something to prevent future losses,” said Shellie Bailey-Shah, head of public communications for the Beaverton School District. “And these, you know, were teenagers who had dreams, dreams and plans, and they had families who love them and who continue to face their loss.”
The Beaverton School District developed curricula for high school and high school students and launched a campaign called “Fake & Fatal” in April.
Health class students have been learning about the dangers of buying fake pills on social media. The pills are believed to be OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax, but are bound with fentanyl.
“The pills have the nickname“ Blues ”for their common color or“ M30s ”for the invoice stamp. The tablets are so well made that even experienced users say they don’t know how to differentiate between a counterfeit pill and a pill made by a pharmaceutical company, ”the district said online.
Students also hear Cal’s story and learn how the synthetic drug can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine and how just one pill can kill.
“We had training for all of our district administrators on how to handle fentanyl-related incidents and how to handle the drug on its own, because it can be very, very dangerous,” Bailey-Shah said.
He explained another important thing the district did: organize community conversations with experts and Cal’s family.
“I think there’s a certain amount of disbelief among parents like,‘ oh, that would never happen to my son, ’” Bailey-Shah said. “And what we’ve learned from the families in our district who have dealt with this, that we’re not talking about a stereotypical drug user, are kids who are experimenting. And what we’ve learned about fentanyl is that only one pill is needed. Therefore, there is no longer any drug experimentation. A pill can kill. “
Fentanyl deaths increase
The district explained online earlier this year in its county that more than 17,000 pills have been confiscated by narcotics equipment, most suspected of counterfeit oxycodone. Throughout 2020, less than 14,000 pills were confiscated.
Bailey-Shah, a father with two boys, said it’s too early to know what impact this campaign will have, but not talking about it is no longer an option.
He explained when his district was looking for guidance and education, there was not much to help with the curriculum.
“I would strongly encourage, you know, families to partner with school districts, law enforcement and public health departments, because all of these people have such an important role in getting this message across. Bailey-Shah explained. “And if our resources that we’ve already developed can help spread the message more easily and broadly, it’s rewarding for us.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert in December 2020 due to an increase in deaths due to synthetic opioids across the country.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott warned that fentanyl seizures were already up nearly 800 percent this year from last year.
KXAN researchers found that deaths are also rising in central Texas. Court documents detail a wave of overdoses between March 2020 and this January: 17 deaths from Oxycodone counterfeits and illegal prescription pills in Austin and surrounding cities.
Press to change the terminology
The Stewart family said implementing classroom education will be key to preventing more deaths.
“It’s important for kids to be educated on … how to be bold and how not to give in to peer pressure,” Becky said. “And so, to be able to keep saying no and be persistent, because these people don’t give up when they try to sell their product.”
Becky said she also learned after talking to other organizations that there is a need to talk about a change in terminology when it comes to fentanyl deaths.
“Cam did not die of an overdose. He was poisoned with a pill containing fentanyl. The very word overdose indicates that someone took too much substance that they knew they were taking. Cam had no idea he was taking a pill containing fentanyl, so he was essentially poisoned, ”Stewart said.
He said organizations working to raise awareness are concerned about misinterpreting these deaths as overdoses rather than poisonings and may mean that many families will ignore the warning and think overdoses only happen to families who have addiction problems. or substance abuse.
The Stewart family said it doesn’t have to be someone who has alcohol and drug problems.
“It could be a kid at a party for the first time, and someone hands them a pill and that’s it,” Becky said.