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Our Opioid Epidemic, Yours, Mine and Washington State's...

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

My beautiful son Chandler made an initial decision, sometime in his young teen life, to experiment with his first drug. I believe that first time was a piece of candy, possibly a lolly pop, that had been soaked in THC oils or butter. How or when that led to smoking pot, I do not know. How or when his curiosity became greater and the drugs became heavier, I do not know. But I do recall when Chandler was in his early teens, I caught him at one of his early 'highs', or at least I believed it to be one of his first. Truly I will never know.

I passed him as I was heading downstairs and he was coming up. This was during the time his father and I were separating, his papa had passed, and he was fairly young still. I knew in an instant he was high. I reached out and grabbed his left arm with my left hand, and stared into his eyes.

"What are you on?", I demanded. I was completely shocked and heartbroken in one instance. I recall him falling back towards the wall and saying "nothing". With my grip still on his arm, I shook him and said again "What the hell are you on?"

He looked at me and said "mom, it's just pot". In his young high mind, I truly believed he thought it truly was "just" pot. I remember sitting him down and having a conversation with him then, right in the moment. Then realizing it wasn't going to do any good - at the moment with his 'high teenage brain' I let it go. He was high on marijuana, pot, our local legalized drug in his teens.

"The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs."


The next day, after Chan was no longer stoned, we had another discussion. I asked him who he got high with and I let him know I was going to talk to the boy's family. I went the next day and spoke to his mother, explaining what our boys had been up to. I recall her appearing to not truly have a care, and actually blaming my son on their high, although of course, my son blamed the other boy. In the moment, I didn't care whose blame it was, I didn't want my son smoking pot - or using any drug for that matter. He was an impressionable teen and I knew what drugs and alcohol could do to a young brain. I was diligent moving forward, trying to better know his friends, who he hung with, where he was and what he was doing. But, I will admit, I was not a helicopter mom - maybe I should have been.

Unfortunately, our culture places such stigma on mental health and substance use, which in turn result in sad and unacceptable outcomes. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to save one. "Many people don't understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will."

Rarely does one overcome any addiction on their own. My son tried, he tried this time and he tried in the past. On Sunday August 9th, he experienced what we believe to be his first overdose on M30s. After that first overdose, he reached out for help. He attempted to find Saboxone (BuprenorphineListen to pronunciationCommon brands: Belbuca, Probuphine, Buprenex) a medicine used to treat those addicted to (dependent on) opioid drugs. He attended two or more NA meetings, and he even reached out to a friend who had successfully gone through treatment - with no response. He was attempting to become clean.

The M30s he purchased and ingested are dangerous fentanyl masked as counterfeit oxycodone. "Fentanyl is a Schedule II synthetic opioid approved for legitimate use as a painkiller and anesthetic. However, the drug’s extremely strong opioid properties make it an attractive drug of abuse for both heroin and prescription opioid users." I recently had a discussion with a friend who has worked years in purchasing in the medical field, both animal and human, and stated I truly didn't understand why a drug such as fentanyl is even ever created. She explained that it is simply the only thing that helps some people with their chronic and extensive levels of pain. Speaking to a family member, I learned that they had used fentanyl patches for their pain, and I even later learned that fentanyl is what dentists may use to put one under when doing oral surgery or other services requiring the patient to become sedated. I was totally naive to these uses.

I had rarely even heard of fentanyl until in recent years when music legend Prince died and it became known that the drug he thought was Vicodin was actually a counterfeit painkiller that was laced with fentanyl. "In all likelihood, Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him, [and] others around Prince also likely did not know that the pills were counterfeit containing fentanyl." Further, because there was little to no 'reliable evidence' to go on as to how or when Prince obtained these counterfeit pills 'laced with fentanyl', there was never a prosecution.

Just as we are facing with my son now, we are being told there is nothing to go on for finding or prosecuting his dealers. We are told that our King County Prosecuting Attorney, Daniel T. Satterberg doesn't prosecute cases like this...that it's political. Political? I asked for explanation of what is political about catching drug dealers. I was told that Mr. Satterberg believes in rehabilitation, not prosecution. Dan - according to his King County bio - has served in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for more than three decades, and was first elected to lead the office in November 2007. I have worked in social and human services and the nonprofit field for even longer, more than 30 years, and believe me, I too believe in rehabilitation. But I also believe in prosecution for offenses such as selling drugs that are killing our loved ones. How the hell else will we reduce this nationwide opioid epidemic?

On August 17th, Chandler experienced his second overdose, this time fatal. We believe he purchased the same M30 drug from the same dealer and took the pill - even though he knew it nearly killed him the week before. We believe he tried not to take that drug, yet his addicted dependent brain was stronger than his will power. Even though we have what we believe to be evidence, as normal citizens, our detectives tell us they have nothing to go on. We have phone records and social media, conversations and more that point us to where he was purchasing these drugs. However, we are told there is nothing to go on.

As I watch the news unfold of teen after teen, from Sammamish to Ballard to Seattle, die from what is known as these counterfeit M30 pills laced with Fentanyl, I am astonished that our King County Prosecuting Attorney is not interested in prosecuting these offenses. I am amazed, simply amazed, that the information we have is not good enough to go on to track down these sellers. As a mother, sister, father, brother who lost our loved one to this deadly drug, we ask why more isn't being done.

We hear these are small stakes, they want bigger stakes. We hear drugs are coming across the border in semis, being waved through by border patrol. We hear constantly that a "border wall" must be built, but I ask, how will that help when you're waving semis through with drugs and they are flying in over our heads in planes. It is not the distraught father, daughter, mother or son trying to get to safety to live a safe and promising life that is bringing theses drugs into our country in the numbers that are killing our loved ones. It is the lack of safety checks for the cartels that are bringing them in, or possibly even the manufacturers right here in the states. These latter statements are simply my opinion, my pain and loss of a boy whose life was cut far too short.

My son was a second year union apprentice pipefitter, a promising welder. He was doing so well in his program as shared by his instructors who attended his Celebration of Life, and his Apprentice Reviews. He was noted as a "promising asset to the industry". He was engaged, he was a son, a brother, an uncle and so much more. He was a romantic who got down on one knee under the Maui sunset to propose to his girl. He was my son, he is my son. Now he's my guardian angel who needs us to fight this opioid epidemic in his and so many other's names.

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