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Scourge of fentanyl can strike without warning

It is every parent’s worst nightmare.

No one expects to have to bury a son or a daughter, especially when they are still in high school, full of promise, with their whole lives ahead of them. And yet, far too many parents across the country are having to face this unspeakable ordeal, due to a vicious drug called fentanyl.

Reporter Vicki Aldous tells the story of one Medford family in today’s Mail Tribune. Tami and Tomes Garcia lost their son Alex to a suspected fentanyl overdose in August. He was 19.

Hoping to spare other parents the pain they are living through, the Garcias have launched a nonprofit organization to raise awareness among parents, students and community members. They plan to start in-person presentations in schools next year.

Fentanyl is so powerful that an amount the size of a dozen grains of salt can be fatal. Drug dealers use it to make fake prescription pills that look like Xanax or Percocet. They also mix it with other drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine.

Many youths — and adults — struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Many of them manage to overcome those challenges and move on with their lives. But fentanyl is not like other drugs. It’s much more dangerous, and it leaves no margin for error.

Alex Garcia struggled with depression and substance abuse for some time, his parents say, telling them he wanted to stop smoking pot but didn’t know how. He said he felt increasingly disconnected, isolated and sad. He stopped attending school.

His parents did their best to help him, but their efforts did not succeed in time.

It’s important to realize, however, that fentanyl does not single out disaffected young people with histories of drug use and trouble with school. It’s an equal opportunity poison.

A couple in the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin can testify to that. Their 17-year-old son Zach was an Eagle Scout, a soccer player and the star of his high school musical when he died of a fentanyl overdose in 2020. As described in a Washington Post story this month, Zach was a victim of what officials call “hot” pills — tablets made to look like prescription medicine that contain fentanyl.

The counterfeit pills are circulated via social media such as Snapchat. Drug Enforcement Administration officials told The Washington Post that drug dealers exploiting online chat platforms to reach teenagers are extremely difficult to catch, and they want social media sites to do more to prevent that kind of activity.

Parents, school officials and community members cannot wait for tech companies to do the right thing. Raising awareness of the dangers of fentanyl must be a top priority for everyone.

After 2021 set a record of 107,622 overdose deaths — more than twice the number in 2015 — drug enforcement officials launched a “One Pill Can Kill” campaign to alert the public. That message clearly hasn’t reached enough people — especially unsuspecting teenagers and their parents.