BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. — Jennifer Schultz of New Brighton cherishes every memory of her son. Going through a box of mementos, she showed 11 Investigates his baby blanket, pictures from over the years and a Mother’s Day card he wrote to her when he was just a little boy.
“I love him. I miss him beyond, beyond measures. I would do anything to have him back,” Schultz said.
Schultz’s son, 19-year-old Nathan Smith, died after taking a pill he thought was a Percocet but turned out to be fentanyl.
“I saw my son slumped over in bed, dead,” she said,fighting back tears.
The pain of that moment is unimaginable, but one that a growing number of parents are experiencing.
“Every day, I miss him. It’s hard. It’s very hard not to have him in my life,” Owen Martin told 11 Investigates.
April and Owen Martin of Ambridge also lost their son Jordan to fentanyl poisoning last year.
“The last time I saw him was when they told us they were going to take him to the hospital,” April Martin said, struggling to get words out between the tears. “They were giving him chest compressions while they were rolling him into the ambulance.”
21-year-old Jordan Martin died after taking a pill he purchased from the same drug dealer in Beaver County who sold Nathan his deadly pill.
“I believe he asked for a Percocet, and I understand that’s still not OK, but if he would have gotten that, he’d still be here,” April Martin said.
One pill can kill
Always a close family, Jordan’s mom is a police officer and his dad is a mental health counselor.
“I never thought it would happen in my household. If it could happen here, it could happen in anybody’s household,” Owen Martin said.
Fentanyl is killing a growing number of young people across the country and in southwestern Pennsylvania. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows nearly 100,000 fentanyl deaths nationwide in the past year, with more than 3,600 of them in Pennsylvania.
Two of those lives lost were Nathan and Jordan. Now, their parents hope to turn their pain into purpose by sharing their stories and warning others that one pill can kill.
“I don’t want him to die in vain,” Jennifer Schultz said of Nathan. “I want his death to save, possibly one, a hundred (lives).”
Both families have joined support groups, including the Facebook group “Lost Voices of Fentanyl,” where grieving loved ones share the stories of so many others who lost their lives to fentanyl.
Jennifer says the pain never gets any easier, but she hopes sharing her grief will help to raise awareness about just how deadly fentanyl is.
“It’s a death sentence,” Jennifer said. “You’re playing Russian roulette, but instead of just one bullet, if there’s eight rounds, you’re playing with seven.”
Fentanyl is so lethal it takes just a tiny amount to kill. A fatal dose of the synthetic opioid is equal to just one or two grains of salt.
“We do recognize the severity of fentanyl,” Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier said.
“In Beaver County, we had 62 drug overdose deaths in 2021, and the bulk of those were fentanyl.”
Fentanyl pipeline to Pennsylvania
Lozier says the deadly opioid is pouring into our communities in unprecedented quantities, coming from Mexican cartels to big cities, and then filtering to local communities here in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“Most of our drugs in Beaver County come from Chicago or Detroit. They come in very large quantities, and it’s very pure,” he said.
Because fentanyl is so cheap to produce, dealers are now mixing it with other drugs and materials, then stamping them into pill form to sell more product and make it more addictive.
“We have many cases where someone goes out and thinks they’re just buying Percocet or OxyContin or Xanax, and not realizing they’re buying pure fentanyl; and they die,” he said.
And that’s how so many young people, like Jordan and Nathan, end up with one lethal pill.
“These people are not signing up to kill themselves. My son did not want to die,” Jennifer Schultz said.
Don’t think it can’t happen
Nathan and Jordan’s families can’t bring their sons back, but they hope other parents will see this and talk to their kids about the dangers of fentanyl, and how even experimenting with one pill can be deadly.
“Watch and educate, educate your children about fentanyl,” Jennifer said. “Don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you.”
Tuesday at 5:45 p.m.: 11 Investigates Angie Moreschi continues her look at the deadly toll fentanyl is taking right here in southwestern Pennsylvania. You’ll hear more from these families about why they want to see more jail time for drug dealers convicted of selling fentanyl. The man charged in both Nathan and Jordan’s deaths pleaded guilty to two counts of drug delivery resulting in death. That carries a maximum of 40 years in prison for each count, but he could serve as little as 4 1/2 years based on the prosecutor’s recommended sentence. We’ll take a closer look at why in our next report Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. on Channel 11 News.
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