SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — As the opioid crisis grows, with an epidemic of overdoses, some California schools are giving a substance called Narcan to students.
It’s a way to reverse the effects of fentanyl, which is often made illegally and sold on the black market, laced with poisonous ingredients. Now, local parents are partnering with safety groups to warn young people and prevent more deaths.
“He was truly gifted on the piano,” Laura Didier, mother of Zach Didier, said.
A natural performer — along with the help of his loyal pup — Zach Didier was, by his mom’s words, a very talented 17-year-old.
“He was a performer. He had just discovered performing in the theater,” Laura Didier said.
The youngest of three kids, Laura Didier says her son was the bright light of her Rocklin family. But just a few days after Christmas in 2020, that light unexpectedly went dim.
“On the morning of the 27th, December 27, 2020, when he hadn’t come out of his room. It was not unusual for him to sleep in,” Laura Didier said.
A frantic call to 911 and even CPR weren’t enough to save his life.
“It was a giant mystery why he would be dead. He had no history with any health issues or history with substances,” Laura Didier said.
Laura Didier says the coroner told her it could only be one thing and drug testing would prove it caused the teen’s death.
“Unless he had a health condition, we suspect that we’ll find fentanyl in his toxicology report,” Laura Didier recalled to FOX40 News.
Zach Didier went to school at Whitney High, and even though his mom says he was a good kid and student, she says there was no way to know the dangers lurking around her son while he was online.
“I was like, what is fentanyl? How would my happy, healthy, 17-year-old in the suburbs get a hold of this substance,” Laura Didier said.
Following her son’s death, Laura Didier discovered just how serious a problem the fentanyl epidemic has become in the community.
“We are dealing with a substance that wasn’t even traceable up until five years ago,” Angela Webb, CEO of Arrive Alive California, said.
The group Webb runs aims to prevent drug-related deaths by educating parents and teens on the dangers of opioids, like fentanyl.
“Sadly fentanyl-related deaths have increased more than even gun-related homicides in our area,” Webb said.
The California Department of Public Health says fentanyl-related overdose deaths in people ages 10-19 years old have spiked in the last few years. In 2018, the state reported 36 deaths, but by 2020, 261 young people died from fentanyl, making that a 625% increase.
And in Sacramento County alone, more than 100 people died from fentanyl in 2021.
Webb says many young people are coming into contact with fentanyl because they’re usually looking for drugs like Percocet and Adderall, but what they get in return is far from that.
“These are not prescription medications you can buy in bulk. These are counterfeit pills that have fentanyl in them,” Webb said.
For the past five years, Webb and her team have been focused on trying to stop that problem and she says it starts with the teens themselves.
“We do peer-to-peer support. Teens and young adults will go to their friends for information before they ever reach out to an adult,” Webb said.
In a partnership with Sacramento County’s Department of Health Services, “Arrive Alive,” visits schools to hold assemblies on the dangers of fentanyl and teach them how Narcan can save a life. It’s commonly used by law enforcement, EMTs and other first responders.
“An overdose reversal drug or medication,” Lori Miller, with Sacramento DHS, said.
On top of educating students and parents on what Narcan can do, the county also has it available for families during school assemblies to take home if someone they know overdoses and needs help right away.
“If the parents are agreeable, to having their students or their children have Narcan, we have it available to them at that point,” Miller said.
While most of the feedback from parents has been positive, the county understands this is a sensitive topic. School districts in other parts of the state, including San Jose and Los Angeles, distribute Narcan more widely.
“There’s no harm in getting educated and increasing your awareness of the benefits of this life-saving medication,” Miller said.
Knowledge is key: With many parents unaware that the dangers of fentanyl poisoning often start when their child goes online.
“We have identified that there are 80,000 to 90,000 drug dealers online using popular social media apps,” Webb said.
That statistic hits close to home for the Didiers once they got into their son’s phone.
“That was where we first discovered that Zach had contacted someone through Snapchat to purchase what he was told was a Percocet pill,” Laura Didier said. “It was a brand new connection with this person, and within 48 hours of that first contact, Zach was dead.”
Through this experience, Laura Didier is now working with Song for Charlie: a non-profit that informs parents and young adults on the dangers of counterfeit pills.
She says this is her chance to save a life because it’s what her son would want her to do.
“To me, he said to his dad, he said to his friends, you know, I don’t know exactly what I want to do. But I know I want to help people,” Laura Didier said.
And she’s confident he’d be proud of what she’s doing now.
The Elk Grove Unified School District has Narcan available only through the school nurse or resource officer to administer if there is an emergency. At this point, parents and students don’t have access to it from the district.
Sacramento City Unified School District is waiting on approval from the board to start distributing Narcan at school sites. Parents wanting Narcan to take home, the district will refer them to the county health department.