LOS ANGELES - After losing her 19-year-old son to a fentanyl overdose four years ago, Juli Shamash is trying to prevent parents from making the same mistake of not openly talking with their children about the dangers of illicit street drugs.
"So many kids are dying everyday and it doesn’t seem to be letting up. It’s getting worse and somehow the message isn’t getting across," said Shamash who founded the Drug Awareness Foundation after her son Tyler died in 2018.
Through donations and fundraising she was able to put up a billboard and several street posters warning other parents about the deadly consequences of taking the synthetic opioid.
A billboard at the corner of Western and Lexington Avenues in East Hollywood shows a picture of her son’s tombstone and the message: "Talk to your kids about fentanyl, we wish we had."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be found in methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, vaping products, as well as counterfeit Xanax, hydrocodone or Oxycodone. Some who fatally experience fentanyl may have done so without their knowledge.
"The night before he died he was sent to the hospital with a suspected overdose. When he got there they did a drug test and it turned out negative," said Shamash. "After he died we found out it did not cover fentanyl because it was a synthetic opioid."
She also worked to place several other posters on ten of Metro’s Big Blue Buses. Others near Hamilton and Fairfax High Schools read "One line. One Pill. Fentanyl Kills" and "Your first time trying drugs can be your last."
"We always say ‘not my child’ are the three most dangerous words you can say because kids are dying now that don’t have an addiction," Shamash said.
"Kids are dying in their bedrooms who are trying one pill from social media. You’re not always going to have the warning signs they are using because quite often it is the first or second time they are trying a pill."
Addiction specialists say there are behavioral changes that parents should be aware of.
"When people are using opioids young people can get moody, sullen, withdrawn. They may be more irritable. They may not be getting along with family members or siblings in the ways that they used to. They can become secretive and guard information that comes up on their phones much more carefully," said Dr. Eric Collins, Chief Medical Officer of Recovery Education and Applied Learning (REAL).
"Kids need to get that information. We could put it in schools letting people know that using drugs today is more dangerous than it ever was."
"As parents there are some things you don’t want to talk about with your kids, but you need to. I wish I knew more about fentanyl, because I had barely heard of it," said Shamash.
"I definitely think I would have talked to Tyler about it. I wish he had seen a sign like this."
Earlier this year, she helped pass SB-864, named "Tyler’s Law." Beginning January 1 it requires providers that choose to do a urine drug screen test, to include fentanyl. The law would ensure the hospital provides testing access and capability.