Parents Never Expected This To Be The Cause Of Teen Son's Death

It’s been a year since Chris and Laura Didier found their 17-year-old son, Zach, slumped over his desk inside their home near Sacramento, Calif.

He "appeared to be asleep, and when I approached him, I knew something was horribly wrong," dad Chris Didier said of the moment he entered his son’s room on Dec. 27, 2020.

Chris Didier said coroners arrived at his home to examine Zach’s room over the course of several hours.

"They said, ‘Chris, this is a real mystery,’" he said. "’We — obviously, if someone dies — we want to figure out what happened, if there's any obvious clues.’"

The investigators told the Didiers there were two possibilities regarding the cause of Zach’s death: natural causes or fentanyl.

"I know what fentanyl is, but how does that get into my house?" Chris Didier asked. "My child is inside my house. He's not out in the dangers of the world. How does he get it into his room? How does it get into his body?"

The grieving parents soon learned that their son had purchased what he thought was a Percocet pill from someone on Snapchat. Instead, he ended up with a counterfeit pill made up of fentanyl.

Zach’s parents were shocked to learn that their son was able to obtain the pill so easily through social media.

"I also learned that social media is a very common platform. You can get whatever you want on social media at any age, and I had no idea that that was going on."

Synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, have become the primary cause of overdose deaths in the U.S., especially among teens.

"One-time users are most likely to die from it because they have no tolerance, and they don't have any idea what they were taking," Dr. Olivia Rae Wright, family medicine and adolescent addiction specialist in Vancouver, Wash., said.

Dr. Wright said overdoses started to rise when heroin started getting laced with fentanyl as a filler to push out more products.

"It was all happening in the Northeast, and the reason was because it started out just being mixed with heroin," she said. "The heroin on the East Coast tended to come from China, and it was in a white powder form that was really easy to mix with fentanyl."

Wright added that it wasn’t a problem on the West Coast until the past 10 years when production of a particular type of heroin known as China White slowed down.

"China got a lot of pressure from the U.S. about this when it first started becoming a problem," she said.

"They quit making it as much. But what they do is, they send the precursors [base chemical compounds] to Mexico, and so now it's … distributed in the United States, and made its way to the West Coast."

The addiction specialist also pointed out, "Once prescription opioids weren't as available, then they [the drug dealers] were looking for other things to keep people hooked and found that fentanyl was a great way to do it."

She continued, "It started feeding into the supply, being mixed with other drugs, and then just on its own now, and mostly in pill form."

Since Zach’s death, Laura and Chris Didier have used their experience to inform other parents of the dangers of counterfeit pills and the open drug markets on social media.

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