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New Tyler’s Law aims to curb fentanyl deaths with ER screening

Column: The bill comes too late for her son, but it will save others, activist mother says


Juli Shamash and her son Tyler, who was 19 when he died in 2018. (Courtesy Juli Shamash)

Shamash, of Los Angeles, is working with an emergency physician from San Diego to make routine ER screening for fentanyl standard in every state. It can convince people to carry naloxone, alert friends who may be using, ditch suspect pills (which can now be legally tested for fentanyl in California) and motivate them to seek help. It can also help law enforcement prosecute drug dealers and help outpatient clinics with data, Shamash said.

Tyler was a brilliant kid who could fix anything, but he struggled with anxiety and couldn’t see his own worth. He wanted so very much to fit in. His family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars sending him to wilderness programs and boarding schools, private treatment programs and sober living homes.


He got the money to buy the drugs that killed him from a “friend” who brokered him to a program in Laguna Hills that accepted Tyler’s insurance — and received $2,000 for his troubles, Shamash said. Tyler got a cut of the take.


Shamash — and a coalition of more than 50 groups including the California Hospital Association, California Medical Association, county health directors, public safety officials and family-based organizations — wants to forge a new path forward on addiction treatment and behavioral health issues. Clearly, with more than 100,000 drug-related deaths in a single year, it’s desperately needed.


The Behavioral Health Action coalition wants to “flip the triangle” on how we approach addiction and serious behavioral health problems.


The Behavioral Health Action coalition wants to “flip the triangle” on how we approach addiction and serious behavioral health problems.

One of the important takeaways: “If you’re in the public behavioral health system because you don’t have insurance, or you’re in Medicaid, you have a better chance of getting recovery-based treatment than you do in a private program,” said Steve Fields, the Progress Foundation’s executive director, when the coalition’s new Blueprint for Behavioral Health was unveiled last year.


Shamash wishes she had known that when her son was struggling. But a story told, she has said, is a life saved.


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