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Portland parents share importance of fentanyl awareness as doctors push state to do more


PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - A Portland couple is pushing for more awareness of the dangers of fentanyl, which is fueling a dramatic increase in overdose deaths in Oregon.

It’s something they’ve done a lot of work on too, after their son passed away just over a year ago.

“What I’d like to do is just start by doing introductions,” Jennifer Epstein said on a call with her husband Jon and with parents across the country, many of whom are grieving, and many recently lost a child to fentanyl.

“Specifically today we’re gonna talk about certain tools for convincing schools and other organizations to talk about this,” Jennifer said.

The meeting is for a non-profit called Song for Charlie.

The goal is to make people aware of the unique dangers fentanyl poses, especially for young people, and to reach kids with messaging where they’re at, which is at school, at home and on their phones. They even have Snapchat videos and TikToks as some examples.

An amount of fentanyl that fits on the tip of a pencil can be deadly, and people are unknowingly buying or taking what they think is Oxycodone, Xanax, or another drug, that instead contains fentanyl.

That’s what happened to the Epstein’s son Cal who was home from his first semester of college in December 2020.

We’re told he was a chatty, fun-loving person, who loved swimming and theater and bringing his friends together.

“Caley was a vibrant outgoing brilliant beautiful young man,” Jon said.

After a few days at home, his parents found him unresponsive in his bed with a bag of blue M30 pills.

“He had anxiety, he had an eating disorder and he had professional help for those things,” Jon said. “We’ll never know what exactly caused him to seek out an oxy on the internet.”

“We do know that he went onto Google and searched what is an oxy, what is a safe dose for my weight, and how will this oxy interact with my anxiety medicine, so we know that he was trying to be safe I guess you could say,” he said.

But the toxicology report later showed fentanyl in his system and no trace of oxycodone, because the pills were fake.

That was the first time the Epsteins had ever heard of fentanyl.

“It was eye opening because this problem has been around for several years; people have been trying to raise the alarm,” Jennifer said. “Taking a pill today is like playing Russian roulette.”

“How do we let families and kids and the community know about this danger because it’s really widely not understood,” Jon said. “With these fake pills it could be experimentation, self-medication, first time user, somebody who maybe has tried substances before but not full on their way to substance use problems and so the opportunities to intervene are razor thin.”

Back in November, more than 50 Oregon healthcare providers signed a letter to the Governor requesting she declare a state of emergency in response to a rapid rise in overdoses due to fentanyl, asking for a public awareness campaign, distribution of naloxone overdose reversal kits, and a rapid response system to track overdoses.

“We need to reach kids where they’re at and let them know about this danger,” Jon said. “Our job and the state’s job is to do everything possible to give them that information.

When we asked the governor’s office about this, we were told they’re not sure that an emergency declaration would bring more resources that aren’t already available through state agencies, and that during last year’s legislative session the governor passed $350 million in behavioral health and system reforms.

She signed House Bill 4098 into law this week which expands the state agencies that must work with the alcohol and drug policy commission in addiction, prevention, treatment and recovery work. We also got a copy of a letter signed by county health officials that went out to clinicians this week warning of fake pills and how doctors can talk about this with their patients.

You can find more resources and information at Song for Charlie

Copyright 2022 KPTV-KPDX. All rights reserved.

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