Families channel grief into action to partner with Snapchat, Facebook, Google to get the word out about fentanyl poisonings
A new public service campaign about the potentially deadly consequences of taking fake prescription pills is reaching teens and young adults right where they hang out the most: social media.
Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook users from that age group will soon start seeing ads — calling attention to the dangers of taking even just one pill.
The social media giants joined forces with families that have lost loved ones to fentanyl poisonings to carry out this massive effort called the "One Pill Can Kill" initiative.
The campaign uses content, digital ads and public service announcements — even a Snapchat lens — to raise awareness about what's become known as the fentanyl crisis.
Deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013, and have accelerated during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The effort will also shine a light on the meteoric rise in poisonings and deaths that have resulted from teens and young adults, purchasing what they think are commonly-used prescription medications on social media apps, only to fall victim after ingesting pills that are made with lethal amounts of the powerful opioid.
"One of our guiding principles is to go, take our message to young people where they are and that's social media," said Ed Ternan, co-founder of the Song for Charlie organization.
Ternan and his wife Mary lost their son Charlie to fentanyl poisoning in the spring of 2020, founded Song for Charlie, a nonprofit that, as outlined on its website, "...creates and distributes educational programs that address the emerging dangers of self-medication and casual drug use in the fentanyl era and that encourage healthier strategies for coping with stress."
According to Snapchat's most recent user data, the platform reaches an astonishing 90% of 13-24-year-olds in the United States.
That demographic, Ed Ternan believes, correlates with those on social media who most often experiment with what they think are prescription meds.
"Getting them engaged and getting them behind our effort, we're going to have a real impact in the short term in alerting kids to these fake pills," Ternan said about the One Pill Can Kill initiative, which he said resulted from efforts he made after his son died to get-to-the-table social media companies, like the one that owns Snapchat, for discussions on how to educate people about the dangers of taking pills purchased online.
A huge danger that comes with these counterfeit pills is the look, Ternan explained. They are designed to look like something that would appear to children as familiar and safe.
Laura and Chris Didier first shared the painful and tragic circumstances surrounding their son Zach's death with KCRA 3 in a special report in hopes of saving other lives.
Zach purchased a pill he thought was a prescription painkiller. That pill, doctors later determined, was made with a lethal dose of fentanyl. Zach died in his home shortly after consuming it in December 2020.
Unlike with other drugs that adolescents may experiment with and move on from, fentanyl — consumed even in an amount equal to the size of three grains of sand — can be lethal.
The Didiers said parents need to realize the drug paradigm and landscape have shifted dramatically since they themselves were teenagers.
With their son Zach, there were no warning signs to spot like their child becoming closed-off or his grades slipping.
"All you get is a rude awakening when this happens," said Laura Didier. "We had no idea of this problem. We were blindsided by the death of our son."
Laura described how she and her family have come to learn that pills like the one Zach ingested are made by the millions. They look exactly like Xanax, Adderall, Percocet, or any number of other medications people seek out for everything from pain management to anxiety.
"It's to the left of us. It's to the right of us. It's in front of us. It's everywhere," said Chris Didier. "It's a crusade that we're all on to save lives. We just want people to know what they're getting into."
In addition to engaging in local and online outreach and support groups and pushing for legislation to be enacted that would combat the fentanyl crisis, the Didiers are supportive of Song for Charlie's "One Pill Can Kill" initiative. Their one wish is that a program like this could have reached Zach before it was too late. "My child never would have taken that pill if he knew the market was flooded with these counterfeit pills," Laura Didier said. "So if this is a way to get that information — right away — into their hands, you've gotta go where the kids are."
For more information and resources that will help you start a conversation with your children about fentanyl poisoning and the dangers of fake prescription pills, and to take the No Random Pills!" pledge, visit the Song for Charlie organization website.