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Parents warn of fentanyl danger after two Portland students die from accidental overdoses

Source: KATU2 ABC

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland police say two Portland Public Schools students died within 24 hours of each other from overdoses.

"We stand here ready to help those parents and the community members in any way that we can," Jon Epstein, whose son, Cal, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2020, said. "It's something unimaginable to have happen."

Fentanyl is a pharmaceutical. It is approved to treat severe pain, usually in advanced cancer patients, but it's also cheap and potent. Drug dealers are capitalizing on that.

"The entire drug supply is tainted right now," Jennifer Epstein, Jon's wife, said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says illicit fentanyl is usually smuggled into the country from Mexico. Drug dealers are lacing pills, which look like legitimate prescriptions, with fentanyl.

According to the DEA's data from September, the number of counterfeit pills with fentanyl seized by the administration has increased about 430% since 2019.

The deadly pills are flooding the market, and they are extremely easy for kids to get.

The Epsteins' son, Cal, was home from the University of Hawaii on a winter break when he sought out a drug dealer on Snapchat. He was looking for Oxycontin.

"He went online and bought what he thought was an Oxycontin pill," Jon said. "It turned out to be fentanyl, and he never really stood a chance."

According to the DEA, just two milligrams of fentanyl can be enough to kill someone. That's the equivalent of two grains of salt.

Jon says Cal "was really just a typical kid, super kind" and was very active in the community. He taught swim lessons, worked multiple jobs, participated in theater and had recently graduated from Sunset High School. He did suffer from anxiety.

Jon thinks it's possible that mental health challenge led Cal to seek out Oxycontin.

Cal, as many other kids have tragically been, was tricked into taking a deadly dose on fentanyl.

"Cal had no idea," Jon said. "In fact, we found out later that the night, the night before he took the pill, he had searched on Google for Oxycontin."

Cal was looking up how Oxycontin would interact with his anxiety medication, how much he should take for his weight. All that research didn't matter, though, because he didn't swallow what he thought he was.

The Epsteins are now working to educate other kids through Song For Charlie. The organization tries to reach kids where they're at, online. They make social media videos on places like TikTok that are modern and impactful, teaching kids about the dangers of fentanyl. Song For Charlie, too, was founded by a family who lost a child to an accidental fentanyl overdose.

The Epsteins are one of many local families who are working to educate others. Gail Strobehn-Simmons is on a similar mission.

"As a mom, I know how horrific it feels to lose your only child or any child," Strobehn-Simmons said.

She lost her son Christopher to a heroin overdose in 2012. He struggled with addiction.

"It doesn't go away," Strobehn-Simmons said of the pain. "I mean, it was 10 years ago. It doesn't ever go away."

She started the nonprofit Need4Narcan. The goal is to get Narcan into schools. Narcan has the ability to save someone who has overdosed.

"For these people, the way that they're losing their kids, I feel is almost more painful than what I went through because it's, it's instant," Strobehn-Simmons said. "The kids don't even know what're doing. With [Fentanyl pills], you just pop it in your mouth and you're dead."

All this work is to try and prevent another family from feeling this unfathomable pain.

"You shouldn't die from mistakes, you should learn from them," Jon Epstein said.

Jennifer says since Song For Charlie started its social media campaigns in August, the organization has reached over 50 million people.

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