On the morning of July 25, 2020, Matthew Thomas took what he believed was a Percocet, a prescription drug for pain relief. He died moments later, a victim of fentanyl poisoning.
On Jan. 26, 2019, Austen Babcock took what he believed was cocaine. Unbeknownst to him, it was laced with fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid. He died shortly after, another victim of fentanyl poisoning.
April Babcock, Austen’s mother, and Wendy Thomas, Matthew’s mother, have both become activists to raise awareness about illicit fentanyl. Babcock is the founder of Lost Voices of Fentanyl, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness on illicit fentanyl, and Thomas is the founder of Matthew’s Voice.
Both told The Epoch Times that obtaining illicit fentanyl is as easy as ordering a pizza.
“I talk to all these moms [in Lost Voices of Fentanyl], and their kids go on social media and literally ordered drugs just like a pizza. It’s just like Uber Eats. Well, now it’s like Uber drugs,” Babcock said.
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“Some of these parents in the group literally saw the dealer on their Ring. They’d pull up into their driveway, and their kid would run out. I mean, these pills are cheap.”
“We got fake Adderall pills on social media. Fake Xanax. Fake Percocet. I mean, all the pills are fake. These kids just don’t realize they’re literally buying death. They don’t know,” Babcock said.
Thomas agreed and added that when she’s given presentations at schools, kids have told her they hear about Percocet and Xanax in music videos, and when they buy pills over social media, that’s what they think they’re getting.
“But it’s not,” Thomas said.
“They need to know that six in 10 pills are … potentially deadly,” she said, citing Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) data.
Families Against Fentanyl reports that in 2021, fentanyl poisoning was the leading cause of death among Americans aged 18 to 45.
And in 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 4,765 children and young adults aged 14–23 died from the use of synthetic opioids—more than double the 1,984 deaths in 2018.
Babcock said she thinks the number of overdose deaths from fentanyl is significantly underreported.
“There’s a family … that’s pretty definite their kid died from fentanyl because they found fentanyl at his house. But guess what: He was never tested!” Babcock told The Epoch Times. “[The death certificate] says he died from cocaine. No, he didn’t. He died from fentanyl.
“So [that family] is trying to pass a bill in Maryland, so every hospital has to test for fentanyl. And, you know, I know there’s places that still don’t test for fentanyl, but I had no idea that was going on in my own state, and that’s criminal! Those stats are a very lowball number.
“I hear it all the time: ‘They didn’t test for fentanyl.’ How are we ever going to get the right data? ” Babcock said.
Babcock started Lost Voices of Fentanyl, a Facebook group, in 2020. The group now has more than 24,000 members, and every day, Babcock said she hears from parents who’ve lost a child to fentanyl poisoning.
“Why isn’t our government warning the public? They’re not warning them!” Babcock said. “I mean, I know certain states are doing it. Like I know, in my state, Maryland, I’ve seen two fentanyl commercials. And that’s great. That’s fine and dandy, but it’s not good enough. You know, teenagers don’t watch that anyway. We need a COVID-like response from our government for fentanyl.”
Growing Misunderstood Problem
In 2020, there were a reported 91,799 total drug-related deaths, according to the CDC. By 2021, that number had climbed to 106,719. In both years, approximately 82 percent of deaths involved at least one opioid, with fentanyl being the most common.
“I started Mathew’s Voice because my son Matthew died of fentanyl poisoning in 2020, in July. He was 20 years old,” Thomas told The Epoch Times.
“He took what was supposed to be Percocet, and it was fentanyl. And so, I decided to go ahead and focus on high schools. I’ve been to several high schools in North Carolina, and the biggest thing that surprises me is that most of them have not even heard of illicit fentanyl.
“I thought maybe if Matthew had heard about it sooner…”
Babcock concurred, “What I’m seeing is most of these people have no idea what fentanyl is. They’re getting their [deceased] kids’ toxicology reports back, and they had no warning to even warn their kids about fentanyl. Like they just didn’t know.”
Thomas and Babcock are both quick to point out that what they’re talking about isn’t the pharmaceutical fentanyl prescribed to treat severe pain—often post-surgery and for advanced-stage cancer. Instead, they’re talking about illicit fentanyl found in counterfeit pills.
In 2022, the DEA issued a public safety alert, warning that six out of 10 fake prescription pills contained “a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.”
If you’re curious to delve deeper into the topic, read more about it here.