Father who lost son to fentanyl sharing story as warning to other parents

Rob McMillan Image
Friday, August 11, 2023
Advocates warn parents of fentanyl epidemic amid start of school year
Ed Ternan is sharing the story of his son's death from fentanyl to help warn other parents.

As students head back to school, advocates for drug awareness are urging parents to be aware of the ongoing fentanyl epidemic.

For Ed Ternan, it means sharing the story about his son Charlie who died from a fentanyl overdose more than three years ago.

"God forbid your child is struck by a car or dies in a drowning accident; those are risks that somehow you have in the back of your brain - that something that is on my worry list," said Ternan. "Death by a single pill is just devastating."

Ternan said his son was unaware that the pills he purchased contained fentanyl.

The incident happened in spring 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Charlie was studying at Santa Clara University, and wanted to find Percocet to help with back pain he was experiencing.

"They found a dealer on Snapchat, and they arranged to buy some pills from him," said Ternan. "It was a few Xanax (pills), and Charlie at the time, according to the story, said it looks like the guy's got (Percocet). My back's killing me. I'm going to take one of those."

"He put one blue M-30 in his mouth and died."

Ternan said many people have a common misconception that kids and young adults are intentionally experimenting with fentanyl, when many times it's the opposite: they do not go through the trouble of seeing a doctor or going to the pharmacy. It can also be much cheaper to buy pills on the streets or via social media.

But one bad pill is enough to kill.

"The problem is inconsistent dosing," said Ternan. "You can either get a dud; something that does nothing or something that works. Most of them have a dose in there that will get you high, but not kill you.

"But then some of them are 'hot,' and you can have a very, very small percentage of a half a billion tablets that have a lethal dose. And you that's where you get thousands of young people dying per year over the last few years."

Ternan said his son's case is a perfect example: of the 11 pills he and a friend purchased from the dealer, 10 of them were complete duds. But the 11th pill, the one Charlie thought was Percocet, had enough fentanyl in it to prove fatal.

Ternan said another misconception among parents is where students get drugs. No longer are these transactions that occur on a street corner, but often via social media.

"Young people and drug dealers use Instagram, Discord, Telegram and TikTok to promote their wares and post their menus," he added.

Bill Bodner, special agent-in-charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Los Angeles Field Office, said drug dealers and buyers often communicate with special code. Emojis that might appear either meaningless or harmless to parents could actually be communication with a dealer.

"Keep in mind these social media platforms use artificial intelligence to drive content to the users," said Bodner. "So even if your child doesn't seek out these things on a social media platform, that doesn't mean this content won't be pushed to them.

"Especially at back-to-school time when some children are making that transition from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school, they're going to have new sets of friends and new social groups and with that comes different social media interactions and the potential for different content getting pushed to their social media contents."

Ternan said 21st century parenting is completely different than what he experienced growing up.

"In my day, if I went out to play, my parents wanted to know where I was going and who I was with," he commented. "Today, it's social media where kids are conducting all of their transactions."

Ternan and his wife are spreading the word about their experience through their website songforcharlie.org. He implores parents that if their kids are on social media, they need to be there with them.

"If your child has the Snapchat app, you have to have the Snapchat app. And you have to use it, and you have to understand how the app works."