Betrayed by The System: how a college classmate lost his life to a series of legal, illicit, and foreign drug villains
There are no easy answers to this problem.
This week, I learned about an incredibly sad tragedy. Someone I attended college with had died from a fentanyl-related overdose (or poisoning) a few years ago.
I remain shocked to hear this news. Though we were not close, this was a kid that everyone admired. During the brief time I knew him, he was kind, respectful, and truly didn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body.
His story serves as a cautionary tale. Although they have been rather public in telling his story, for the sake of his family’s privacy, I will refer to him as John. All of the facts I have gathered are available publicly.
John grew up in a loving, middle class, church going family in a safe community.
His parents believe that John’s path to addiction began at the very young age of 10. He was diagnosed as abnormal and medicated with undisclosed prescription pharmaceuticals. You can tell in the way that they speak about this episode that they deeply regret this decision. Today, an estimated 5-10 percent of American children are currently prescribed with powerful stimulants for the blanket diagnoses commonly known as ADD or ADHD.
John was also a star athlete. He was such a good athlete that he was given a scholarship to play at our NCAA Division 1 school. But due to the physical demands of the sport, John was also prescribed high-powered painkillers to help him stay on his feet and compete.
At just 18 years old, John had already been on a long term, consistent regimen of legalized meth and legal opioids. At the time, all of the debilitating substances that were circulating his system were almost indistinguishable from illicit drugs, but were granted with a stamp of approval from The System.
I don’t think that John graduated from our school. In fact, I think he dropped out after only a year or two. But during the time he was on campus, John was one of those larger than life figures who was hard to forget. He had a lot of friends and he was universally liked. He was a very decent person, but you could kind of tell that he was battling some internal demons.
The trail went cold for a couple of years. Sadly, he popped up in the news a few years before his death, when he was arrested in what seems like a police sting for buying heroin. Just a couple years after many of us had graduated and moved into the workforce, John had become a full blown heroin addict. He was no longer on his legal “medications,” instead upgrading his prescriptions with street drugs.
Was John always going to turn out this way? Did his multiple drug prescriptions lead him down this path? That much remains uncertain.
In an interview with a local paper, John’s parents reflected on how his behavior had changed. John was no longer the fun loving man everyone knew him to be. John became selfish, maxed out his credit cards, and even stole from his own family to prolong his drug habit. John was completely captured by heroin addiction and opioid abuse. He was also skinny and frail, no longer resembling the powerful D1 athlete who had a towering presence on campus
Counted out by society, the one-time star athlete sought to battle back and confront his demons. He committed to a full time rehab facility out of state.
Against all odds, all indications pointed to the possibility that John had finally managed to beat back his crippling disease. His parents said he both looked and sounded great, having been sober for over a year. He regained the weight and was reportedly excited for the future ahead.
Sadly, it wouldn't last. John was found dead shortly after that conversation, relapsing with a powerful synthetic opioid.
According to the medical examiner’s office, heroin was not found in John’s system, but carfentanil was.
What the heck is carfentanil, you ask?
Carfentanil is an extremely high powered tranquilizer that has an estimated 20 to 100 times the potency of its structural analogue in fentanyl. In veterinary medicine, it is used to sedate large animals such as rhinos and elephants. On the streets, it is often used as a lacing agent for illicit drugs.
Sadly, it seems that John slipped up on his path to recovery. The drug found in his system is so deadly that it has been discussed in many countries as being classified a potential weapon of mass destruction. Given the dangerous nature of carfentanil, it only took one mistake to cost John his life.
Tragically, John was one of more than a dozen people who died from a carfentanil overdose in that one U.S. county on the very same day.
China remains the primary source of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related drugs such as carfentanil. According to estimates from Congress, China is responsible for between 90 to 99 percent of the fentanyl-related illicit drugs on American streets.
The city of Wuhan, the reported epicenter of the Covid era, is commonly understood as the fentanyl capital of the world. In Wuhan and throughout China, over a dozen online vendors once sold “carfentanil openly online, for worldwide export, no questions asked,” according to an AP report.
In 2019, China finally banned the production and sale of fentanyl and many of its variants. But Chinese companies simply decided to manufacture fentanyl precursors instead. Those chemical components are now reportedly shipped from China to Mexican drug cartels, where the precursors are made into fentanyl and then transferred onto American streets.
Fentanyl poisoning/overdose remains the leading cause of death for young Americans today. John was just one of its many victims, preyed upon by a series of legalized, illicit, and foreign villains. There are no easy answers to the societal, legal, and geopolitical hurdles that John encountered. But nonetheless, I thought his story was one worth telling.