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Fighting fentanyl: A parent’s path from grief to advocacy — Power to the Parents, Ep. 8

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Content Warning: This episode features content around fentanyl poisoning and the death of a teenager. Please call 1-800-662-HELP if you or anyone you know is struggling with substance abuse.

In this episode of Power to the Parents, Amy Neville shares her personal journey of loss and activism after her son’s tragic death due to fentanyl poisoning. She educates parents and teens about the dangers of fentanyl, the deceptive nature of counterfeit drugs, and the impact of social media on drug accessibility. Amy’s foundation focuses on youth perspectives and aims to raise awareness and provide resources for prevention.

Amy Neville discusses the dangers of fentanyl and its impact on adolescents, highlighting the role of social media platforms like Snapchat in facilitating drug-related activities. She emphasizes the need for parents to engage with their children on social media and provides insights on how to address drug experimentation and addiction. Amy also shares valuable information about naloxone and its importance in saving lives. The conversation ends with a message of hope and empowerment from the perspective of teens.

Transcript of Episode 8: Fighting Fentanyl: A Parent’s Path from Grief to Advocacy

Ailen Arreaza, host: Hello and welcome to Power to the Parents. I am your host, Ailen Arreaza, and I’m really pleased to have Amy Neville with me today. Amy is a mom and an activist who has taken the worst tragedy and heartbreak and turned it into activism and awareness about how we can keep our kids safe from fentanyl. Hi, Amy. Thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the podcast.

Amy Neville: Hi, thank you for having me.

Ailen Arreaza: Amy, I want to start this conversation by talking about your family. Can you tell me a little bit about them?

On her son’s death from fentanyl poisoning…

Amy Neville: Sure. So currently, my daughter Eden is 16 years old. She is in the thick of having a very musical life with her drumming and guitar and singing and all the things that she loves to do. And of course, her dad and I try to do everything we can to support her interests.

And then we also have our son Alexander, who was our first born, but will forever be 14. Alex was a very adventurous kiddo, very experimental by nature, if you will. He was the kid that would try the weird food, like he loved octopus and I would never have touched it, but he was very interested in it. One year for Mother’s Day, he gave me those dried crickets as a Mother’s Day gift because he wanted to try them. So, he just had a really great sense of adventure about him.

Very smart kid, super intelligent, loved to learn deeply about a lot of different subjects and then share that knowledge with the rest of the world. You know, after he passed away, one of my friends said, you know, some university missed out on a really cool professor. And so that just really sums him up. He was always teaching his friends things, and adults for that matter, too. But Alex, like I said, he was curious and adventuresome and that led him to a lot of different things, a lot of different paths in life.

He had an eBay business where he was selling off his childhood toys because he was growing up and kind of starting his independence. And that was heartbreaking, but OK at the same time. He was good at it, too. He was very organized and did really well with it. But unfortunately, that deep curiosity led him to wanting to experiment with what he thought was oxycodone.

Long story short, Alex was connected to a drug dealer through Snapchat. I’m not sure the details of exactly how they got connected, but I know that’s where this person came from. We were a very open family. We’ve talked about a great many subjects, and we’ve talked about drugs many, many times with Alex and the harmful effects these things would have on the long term of his brain and his body and that type of thing.

And so the summer, June, summer of 2020 came around and he was having a funky few days and I just went like, what is going on? Are you using something? I want to take you to the doctor. And he’s like, no, Mom, I was up late. I ate something bad, you know. And it’s summer, he’s 14, puberty’s in full swing. So the moodiness was happening. 

Ailen Arreaza: That’s the middle of COVID.

Amy Neville: Exactly. So the moodiness was totally on par with his personality. But a day and a half later, he came back to me and he said, okay, I got to tell you guys something. And, you know, this is the very short version of it. And it was, “I wanted to experiment with Oxy. I got some from a dealer on Snapchat. It has a hold on me and I don’t know why.”

And we sprang into action. We did what anybody would do. And we called a treatment place up in the morning and they said they needed to call us back with their recommendation. That night he died.  Everything happened really, really fast. And that was the day we learned about fentanyl. No one was talking about it at the time.

And I still didn’t even understand the depths of social media harms at that point because we thought it was bullies and sex traffickers, right? Sexual predators and bullies, look out for these things. And so we did, and we spot checked social media. We had rules in place about these things. And yet here we are.

“We sprang into action. We did what anybody would do. We called a treatment place… That night he died.  Everything happened really, really fast. And that was the day we learned about fentanyl.”

Ailen Arreaza: Right. Amy, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. That’s so heartbreaking. And thank you for sharing about him. Like those stories were so lovely. The cricket one especially was hilarious.

Amy Neville: Yeah. So typical of him.

Ailen Arreaza: You know, I have a 14-year-old son who has Snapchat, right? And so this hits home for me. This is very real. And it sounds like you were doing everything right. And hearing you say that he came to you and said, I experimented with this and it has a hold on me. And I think, you know, like he was, you had the kind of relationship where he could trust you and tell you that it means that you were doing everything right.

Amy Neville: We did. Thank you.

On how illicit fentanyl is different from other drugs…

Ailen Arreaza: And so I want to ask you just about fentanyl. Like you said that this is when you first learned about it. I think there’s still much more that parents need to learn about this drug. It sounds like it’s really different from what we’re used to, what we learned back in school.

Amy Neville: Exactly. You’re absolutely right.

Ailen Arreaza: So I’d love to hear about how is it different? What is it about fentanyl that is unique?

Amy Neville: So I want to clarify that we are talking about illicit fentanyl, right? So this counterfeit drug that’s being made. What’s different about it, first of all, is that it’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. And it’s highly, highly addictive. You can get hooked on it really fast. And addiction to it builds really quickly. So if you don’t die in those early phases, you’re going to get addicted to it. You’re going to get hooked on it really fast and build a really strong dependency to it.

I met a lady about a little over a year ago in Colorado who was taking at least 77 pills a day, she told me. Like you would think that would kill her, but that’s how fast it builds. And so these pills that are being advertised in these social media spaces are counterfeit, right? They’re made to look like oxycodone, they’re made to look like Percocet, they’re made to look like Adderall, and they’re just not.

“These pills that are being advertised in these social media spaces are counterfeit, right? They’re made to look like oxycodone, they’re made to look like Percocet, they’re made to look like Adderall, and they’re just not.”

They are a binding agent made with fentanyl to look like this other pill. So back when Alex passed away, they weren’t advertising fentanyl. They were advertising that they had these legitimate prescription pills, right? And when I first started talking to kids, they didn’t know anything about fentanyl. They thought what they were getting was the real deal because these drug dealers are their “friends,” they really think these people have their best interests at heart.

And then more recently in these listening sessions that I do with teens, I’ve learned that, okay, the drug dealers are not advertising fentanyl, but they’re still advertising the oxy, the Percocet, Adderall, Vicodin, whatever you name it. But it’s still fentanyl, they’re not telling these kids that. And it’s taking their lives or getting them hooked very quickly. I mean, adolescents are the fastest growing demographic for death right now in the drug crisis.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, it sounds like it’s so different from anything else that we’re used to. And it’s so important to recognize that as a starting place when we want to talk to our kids about it.

Amy Neville: Absolutely, I completely agree with you. And it’s interesting because I meet a lot of parents, right? The first thing we have to overcome in education and awareness space is stigma… “We don’t have a drug problem in my house. This isn’t ever going to happen.” Well, it doesn’t take a traditional drug problem. It’s just that experimental phase that no kid has ever died in until the last few years, right?

“We need to get parents thinking about, it’s not my kid until it is my kid, right? And if it’s not their kid, it’s gonna be their friend, it’s gonna be their cousin, it’s gonna be a neighbor. It is going to impact their life in one way or another.”

And so we need to get parents thinking about, it’s not my kid until it is my kid, right? And if it’s not their kid, it’s gonna be their friend, it’s gonna be their cousin, it’s gonna be a neighbor. It is going to impact their life in one way or another at this day and age. Just to give you some perspective is in the 20 year period from, so from 2000 to 2019, that 20 year period, we, the United States had about 407,000 drug related deaths. By the time we get from 2021 to the end of this year, we’ll have beat that number in four years. It’s outrageous, and that is the power of fentanyl.

Ailen Arreaza: Wow. And it is mostly fentanyl related, those deaths.

Amy Neville: Yes, about 70 percent of the drug deaths are fentanyl related.

On how and why she turned her grief into action…

Ailen Arreaza: That is so scary. Okay, so you’ve mentioned a couple of times that you are talking to teens, that you’re talking to parents. You really did turn your grief into action. Can you talk to me a little bit about that, what that process looked like for you?

Amy Neville: Sure. So Alex died and we were in shock, right? Death totally blindsided us. Like the thought of him dying that night just didn’t even occur to me because we were going to get him help and this is a prescription and it just wasn’t on the radar.

And so I was like, we have to tell other people that this happened. Like right out of the gate, I was honest that Alex died from drugs. You know, when we told people he died, I was a hundred percent upfront about it because I was terrified of it happening to their kids. In fact, you know, at noon the day that Alex died, one of his friends texted him like, hey, do you know where I can get his Xanax? Like, they were that close, you know, it’s that close. Like, it was terrifying. And then the next time I…

Ailen Arreaza: I just want to say that takes so much courage. I just… It’s like, as a mom. It’s hard.

Amy Neville: It’s hard. It was, but how do you not, how do we not, right? ’Cause lives are at stake. Like I live in this, it’s the whole fight or flight thing, right? Every day I wake up and like lives are at stake and I have to tell somebody. So it’s probably an unhealthy compulsion that I have because I know I can’t get to everybody, but I’m going to try really hard.

So the first time I spoke publicly about it was at Alexander’s funeral. I talked about fentanyl. I told his friends like, please reach out to us, let us help you if you’re struggling. Because something needed to be done, but you know, I was still met with that, “not my kid.” And then I was like, well, my kid did it. So what does that even mean to you? You know, I had a real attitude problem about it, but I got better about responding to people who would say that to me.

But even still, like even maybe from this podcast, I get people who will comment awful things about our family. I don’t read the comments on anything. That’s a number one rule. Or they’ll email me and tell me that I’m an awful parent, my kid’s dead because of me. You know, like I’m not beating myself up every day, right? But the reality is this is a very different drug problem than what we were taught, right? Because you know, when Alex came to us and told us what was going on, our assumption is somebody sold Grandma’s pills and is selling them to friends because that’s what the narrative was. That’s what it’s been for years and years and years.

And we really have to get people to start looking at this differently and that this isn’t the user’s fault because they are a pill popper or whatever the case may be. Because you know what? Alex didn’t ask for fentanyl. He thought he was getting an oxycodone. And this drug dealer knew that his drugs were deadly. He knew that they were fentanyl. And he took away Alexander’s power to make the informed decision.

Ailen Arreaza: Right. So what do you say to parents who say to you, “oh, not my kid,” and they kind of have their head in the sand. What would you say to parents who are listening to this podcast right now about how they should manage this?

Amy Neville: I will tell them straight up. “Not my kid?” And I’m like, you’re right. It might not be your kid, but it could be your kid’s best friend and it could be a relative. And this is why you need to know these things. And then they can think about it. It’s a lot easier to think about it if they think about it in terms of this could happen to somebody else rather than in my own house. And so it’s kind of disassociating, right? A little bit, but it opens the door to that conversation.

And another thing that I do is I refer to Alexander’s death as a fentanyl poisoning instead of overdose because the word overdose is heavily stigmatized. I mean, personally, I feel if anybody dies from drugs, it’s a poisoning, you know, because I always ask adults like, well, what’s the recommended dose of heroin? And they all look at me and like, there isn’t one, right? So how do you overdose on something there’s no dosing for?

But when I say poisoning, parents will be like, “wait, what do you mean by that?” And that’s because we’re conditioned as parents to protect our kid from a poisoning, right? What do we do when we’re pregnant and getting the house ready for our babies? Or they start crawling, we’re putting locks on the cabinets, we’re moving the poisons up high, we’ve got Poison Control’s phone number on speed dial. It’s a relatable term that makes sense to us. And it breaks down that stigma and opens the door for me to have that conversation.

Ailen Arreaza: That’s really, I hadn’t thought about it that way. That’s really smart. Okay, so what can we do about it as parents?

Amy Neville: Oh my gosh. You know, there’s a lot of different legislation and things going on out there, but at the end of the day, I really think it’s education and awareness that is going to get us through this. And I firmly believe that it’s our young people who are going to be the ones looking out for each other, right? So we have to educate them. Again, maybe we’re not educating them because they need it, they personally might take something, but it’s going to be their friend.

So when I go and I do school presentations, I’ll tell these kiddos, like, I give them resource phone numbers and I always tell them it might not be you that needs it, but your friend that’s pouring their heart out to you might need it. And now you’ve got a resource to send them to, right? And then same thing with the education. I tell them like, you know, it might not be you, but you might be at a party and maybe you’re the voice of reason in your friend group and you can stop this from happening. And I’m like, that’s a huge burden to bear, but they’re there. They’re on the front lines of this. They tell me this all the time, you know?

“We’re talking about life or death. This isn’t telling on your friend for stealing a candy bar from the convenience store. I don’t care about that. This is about saving their life. And you have got to tell your trusted adult.”

And then the other thing I tell them is that if you know somebody who’s in this space already, you have got to tell…we’re talking about life or death. This isn’t telling on your friend for stealing a candy bar from the convenience store. I don’t care about that. This is about saving their life. And you have got to tell your trusted adult.

On understanding the youth perspective on drugs… 

Ailen Arreaza: Right. It seems like it’s so tricky because it sounds like for a lot of these kids, there’s like a mental health component or a physical pain component or something that they’re hoping to get medication, but it’s laced with fentanyl. So how do we hold both of those things? Like you really do need to help with this issue that you have and maybe you don’t have access to the medication or you don’t know who to talk to about it and you go this roundabout way and you end up getting in much, much more trouble…

Amy Neville: You’re right. And so I do talk about that with youth. I start with youth on that topic. And my adult presentation and my youth one is almost the same, actually. I like them to get the same information, right? But in my presentation, I do actually have two youth who were self-medicating, self-diagnosing, and getting medication for an actual real physical problem they were having, but it obviously wasn’t what they thought it was going to be.

And so the thing that I come up against with our youth when I do these listening sessions, when it comes to those types of scenarios is that, well, they’re my friend, they’d never do that to me. And that is a tough hill to climb right there because that, I can come and give them a presentation that day, but I’m not gonna be there when that drug dealer is like, “come on, you can trust me, I’m your friend.”

I don’t have an answer to that other than…when I talk to these kids, I tell them, anybody that’s offering you drugs, even if they’ve been your best friend since preschool, they do not have your best interests at heart and it’s time to reevaluate that relationship. That is a tough one. If you have a magic answer, I’m open to ideas all the time on that topic.

Ailen Arreaza: I don’t have a magic answer. And I also think about, you know, you mentioned you started off by talking about how curious your son was and how much he was interested in experimentation. And experimentation is part of adolescence, right? And, definitely not condoning drug use by any means, but it’s so much more dangerous now because you can’t really, you can’t experiment at all without running the risk of fentanyl. And so again, it sort of goes contrary to, like the nature of young people, which is to try new things. So yeah, I’m curious how you have those conversations.

Amy Neville: Our kids don’t like to listen to us, right? And you probably deal with this with your 14-year-old. It’s like, you’re a mom, you’re telling me this, so it’s not real, right? So third party, bring in a third party, get some help. We actually have some educational films on our website. “Come Back Home” is our most recent one. It is the emotional crisis from the youth perspective. And then “Dead on Arrival” is our first film that came out in 2021 that is from parents who’ve been impacted. But they’re great educational pieces that can make it real for somebody.

“This isn’t a scare tactic. It just happens to be that the truth is really scary. And we need to tell our kids the truth.”

Recently I was in a school, because I’ve had people tell me, kids don’t respond to scare tactics. I’m like, no, no, no. This isn’t a scare tactic. It just happens to be that the truth is really scary. And we need to tell our kids the truth. And I think that is a huge breakdown. So a lot of adults don’t want to talk about this because they think that we’re just trying to scare them, right?

I meet a lot of people who, well, if we talk about this, then people in our community are going to think we have a drug problem. Every community has some level of a drug problem, like don’t wait and be reactive, let’s be proactive about it. And so those are other obstacles we have to overcome. And slowly but surely, we chip away at it and try to overcome those objections as best we can. But for parents that want to do something in their own home, I mean, our films are only 20 to 25 minutes long. They’re quick and easy to watch. And I’m always available to help, like reach out to me, email me. I will talk to anyone and everyone that needs help with this.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, so I’d love to hear more about, so you have started a foundation. Can you tell me more about that and the work you’re doing through…

Amy Neville: So after Alex died, it was that “we have to do something.” And right out of the gate, my sister filed paperwork and everything for us to have the Alexander Neville Foundation. My family was amazing in the early days of getting everything set up. And from there, I met some amazing people who’ve helped us out along the way. And I just literally started with one presentation to a group of parents and it has spiraled from there.

If we were a traditional business, business is booming, but we’re not, and I’d rather go back in time and have the life that I thought I was going to have. You could put 10,000 people in front of me and say, these are the lives you’ve saved, or you could have Alex back. I’d take Alex every time. I mean, it’s just, I want my kid. Sorry. Excuse me.

Ailen Arreaza: I would too.

Amy Neville: So we start off. After I met, I started off meeting with all kinds of experts on this subject, right? Law enforcement, doctors, psychologists, you name it, I talked to them and I was ready to create presentations and content and get the ball rolling. But when I went to do that, something was still missing and that was the youth perspective. And so from there, I was like, I gotta talk to teens. And so I started meeting with teens on a regular basis. About once every three months, I will meet with a group of teens that want to, anybody and every teen is welcome.

And they tell me what’s going on. They give it to me straight too. And that all started with a kid in that very first listening session said to me, first he’s like, we’re always being told just to say no, we don’t even know what we’re supposed to say no to. So it doesn’t seem like a big deal. And two, he said, when it comes to talking to us, don’t bulls**t me. And I was like, okay, deal, you have a deal. And so that’s the position we’ve taken on this.

We just take what these kids tell us, put it into presentation form and let people know that this is what’s happening with our kids. This is what they’re dealing with. You know, they feel really minimized by their parents these days because everybody’s so busy and they need us to be there for them a little bit more than we might be. And I know it’s a struggle in every household, right? Because we all have jobs and our kids need to get here and there and they’re doing their own thing. And…then they don’t even want to talk to us because they’re teenagers and it’s hard to get through.

But so when those little moments arise where they’re like, “Hey, Mom, hey, Dad, I had a bad day,” we need to stop and hear about that bad day. Do everything we can to take those moments and listen.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. I’d love to hear just what else you’re hearing from teens, because when I think about fentanyl, for example, I think about the things I’ve heard in the news, which…it’s deadly, all of that. But then I remember a few years ago, there was all the rage about “rainbow fent,” and like the Skittles that look like fentanyl. And then I remember there was a little bit of that scare around Halloween. And some of that stuff to me feels like it’s misinformation. But I don’t know.

Amy Neville: Well, yeah, I think you would be correct. Back when Halloween time was coming, I had several news stations reach out to me and they literally wanted me to go on TV like, oh no, drug dealers are putting fentanyl on our Halloween candy. And I’m like, that’s just not a thing. What’s more likely to happen is that somebody in the household, and I’ve heard this…

I do…not a lot, but I’ve done some elementary school presentations and it’s a very different approach with the elementary schools. We talk about making healthy choices for our brain and our body. And then also different pictures of things, is this a good choice for our brain and our body? And it’s a whole different thing. But I will show a picture of the rainbow colored, the friendly colored fentanyl pills. And kindergarten through fifth grade, they’ll look at them and some of the kids will say, hey, that’s candy. And some of the kids are like, no, that’s drugs, that’s bad, we’re not supposed to touch that.

So these kids already know, or more heartbreaking is when, yeah, my uncle sells those pills, or my brother, I saw my brother and his friends with those pills and they made me not to tell Mom and Dad. So what’s most likely going to happen, what I was starting to say was that somebody in the household is going to have it and these kids are gonna think it’s one thing and it’s not. And that’s where the harm comes in.

I was in a school district in California and I was giving data to the parents and that previous year they had four children under the age of five die from fentanyl. How does that happen, right? It’s that exact scenario. They see it, they think it’s candy and they lose their life.

On the connection between Snapchat and fentanyl…

Ailen Arreaza: Wow, that is really, really heartbreaking and so difficult. And again, so different from everything we grew up thinking and knowing about drugs. It’s just, it’s such a challenge and it’s so important for people to become educated about this.

Okay, I wanna talk to you a little bit about Snapchat because that’s, you know, as I mentioned, I also have a 14-year-old, he uses Snapchat. It’s such a point of tension for us in this work that I do. I have heard about the danger of it. And he’s also like, Mom, all my friends are on there. That’s where my study group is. That’s how I communicate with my math study group and how I find out what the homework is and all of these things. And it’s also a place where kids are being able to access drugs like this. So I’d love to hear about the connection between Snapchat and fentanyl and the work that you’ve done to try to bring awareness to that.

Amy Neville: So, you know, when Alex first told us he got it from a dealer on Snapchat, I didn’t really think much of it in that moment, right? It didn’t mean much to me because we did spot check his social media and would scroll through things and that was part of the deal. But at the time, the drug emoji code wasn’t out there. Like people can type in DEA drug emoji code and it’ll pop right up and you can see that. So had I seen those emojis in somebody’s profile or whatnot, I wouldn’t have known what I was looking at. So we’ve got to know what we’re looking at. So that takes a little education on us parents, right? We have to go out and learn about these things.

But what happens is these drug dealers can reach out to our kids, just straight up become friends with them on there. And once you kind of have that person in your circle, more and more will come up. Drug content will start to show up in your “for you” feed and it starts to look normalized. On day one, our kids might be like, oh wow, this is crazy and weird. But after 30 days of stuff like that, it looks normal, they become desensitized to it. We’ve all been there, right? And so it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to them. 

And then they can private message them a lot of times. I’ve worked with people who have kind of gone undercover on Snapchat to see what’s going on and they’ll send me the screenshots. And so the conversation might start on, it could even start on a totally different platform, but it always ends up going back to…hit me up at Snap. And that’s because of the anonymity that happens on that platform and that’s why teens love it, that’s why drug dealers love it, that’s why any perpetrator likes that platform.

So one of the folks that I was working with online, she was kind of undercover on Snapchat seeing how long it would take for a drug dealer to contact her and whatnot. She actually was talking to a drug dealer, you know, started in the public space and then it moved to their direct messages. And then she ends up saying, okay, thanks, I don’t want anything.

Well, then he started pressuring her and pressuring her and pressuring her. And then it made, she’s a grown woman, but she’s like, it made her scared and she even wanted, she’s like, I want to just buy something so he’ll leave me alone, but then it’s illegal to buy something.

So can you imagine being 15 years old and feeling that pressure? And then you might just do it because you think you’re gonna get this person off your back and it’s just going to make things worse. But I can see that happening.

“Our teens are vulnerable. They want to be treated more grown up. They want to have more clout. And these drug dealers will fill that void. They’ll tell them how smart and funny and amazing they are.”

So through these listening sessions with the teens, another thing I’ve learned is that, it’s not just teens seeking out drugs. Like I was naive. I’ve learned how naive I am in the grand scheme of the world through all of this work. But somebody wants drugs, they’re gonna go find the plug, the hookup, whatever we’re calling them these days.

But there’s also a whole other avenue where a drug dealer becomes our kid’s friend on Snapchat or other places too and builds them up. Our teens are vulnerable. They want to be treated more grown up. They want to have more clout. And these drug dealers will fill that void. They’ll tell them how smart and funny and amazing they are, how they’re stylish, their friends really like them. And 30 days later, our kids are doing things we’d never thought they’d do before because they think this person’s our friend. They made them feel really good. So why would this person do bad things to them?

Another thing that’s come up is somebody puts up, my dog died today, I’m super duper sad. And then the drug dealer slides right into their DMs and takes advantage of that opportunity and says, hey, sorry your dog died. What’s going on? How are you feeling? Well, I’m really sad. I can’t imagine life without my dog. I’ve had that dog since I was born. And the drug dealer is really sweet and empathetic and says, I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way, but I have something that’ll make you feel better. And our low decision-making moments can lead to some really bad things.

Ailen Arreaza: Right. And Snapchat can do things to prevent this from happening.

Amy Neville: So in my opinion, and I have to say that so they don’t sue me, right? In my opinion, Snap is still the largest open air drug market that we have, especially when it comes to our adolescents. You know, I do these listening sessions and every time I have one, I’m expecting these young people to tell me something new, it’s moved to this platform, and it’s still always Snapchat. They still always say Snapchat. So, I mean, they are who they are, right?

It’s hard because they publicly put out how they’ve put things in place, right? And they’ve got the Parent Center, which is absolutely better than nothing, but it still doesn’t let you see what your kid’s talking about. It’s still not foolproof. They can do better. They can put more protections in place to make it a lot more safer for our youth, you know. But what happens is when they dial up those protections, profits go down. They don’t have as much data to sell about our kids. So, you know, they’re putting profits over people.

And then the other thing too is Snap recently in January, Evan Spiegel was on that big tech hearing where he said that he would support the Cooper Davis Act, which is actually a bill where they have to report drug content to the authorities. And then they would support the Kids Online Safety Act, which you’re probably familiar with, which implements a duty of care, which is my favorite part of that bill. So he said he’d support these things.

But then the next day, Snap launches an ad campaign that says that they’re not social media. They’re not…surprise! Yeah. People can look that up. It’s unbelievable. They have a commercial, they have billboards, and it’s “less social media, more Snapchat,” which we counter with “more Snap, more problems.”

On how parents can listen to teens to prevent harm…

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. Oh Amy, it’s so hard. You mentioned at the beginning how Alexander came to you and told you that he had experimented with drugs and he felt that it had a hold on him. And I just, the trust that he had in you to tell you about this is just remarkable. And the fact that fentanyl is such a dangerous drug that led to his death, but I do think there is something really powerful about kids trusting their parents when they’re experimenting with drugs or with what they’re doing. So I’d love to hear how you talk to parents about this and what you tell them when they’re resistant, or they feel like they have absolutely no tolerance for drugs policy at home.

Amy Neville: Yeah, well, those zero tolerance policies, I don’t know how far they get a lot of families, but that’s usually where like the wild child comes in, right? You want to do everything that your parents tell you not to because, you know, they’re telling you not to and what do parents know to begin with, right? You know, we were really fortunate to have such a close relationship with Alex. In fact, his biggest complaint about us as parents was that he overshared with us. And I took that as a win. Like that was, that’s a compliment as far as I’m concerned.

But it took us really having to learn how to listen to him too, because, you know, there’d be times where he’d share something with me and I’d go into problem solving mode, you know? And that might not be what he was looking for at that time. So we have to kind of know what our kids are looking for in that conversation. And maybe it was, we have to start and ask questions. 

I would ask Alex when he’d come to me like, okay, am I listening to listen because you need to vent, or are we looking to solve problems at the end of this? And he’d answer me and most of the time it was a little bit of both. But it helped him, I think, come to us a lot more often than maybe he would have. Because that kid would tell us stuff all the time. And I’d always be like, I can’t believe he just told us that. I can’t believe he just told us that. But I was grateful, I was grateful for all those moments and all that sharing that he did with us.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. And so what advice do you have for parents when their kid comes to them and says, “I’m experimenting with drugs”?

Amy Neville: Don’t freak out. We can’t freak out, right? It’s an emergency situation and just like with any emergency, the number one rule is you stay calm. Stay calm, listen to everything they have to say, do not minimize it, and you have to get help right away, whether or not your kid wants it. I mean, they might be like, I have this problem, but I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want you to tell anybody. I don’t want you to call the doctor.

But if I had a 14-year-old come to me today and say, hey, I have this problem, it would be an emergency room visit. I would take them to the emergency room because this kid, as soon as the effects wear off, is going to go into withdrawal and they’re gonna need help while you’re trying to figure out the bigger picture help. I would not leave their side either. I would not, you know, I just wanna go see my friends before I go to treatment. Oh man, don’t do that. We have to watch them like a hawk at that point.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, I imagine it’s a really tricky line to walk, right? Because our kids are probably gonna rebel when we’re saying, you know, nope, you have to go to the emergency room. You can’t leave my side, but yeah, what advice would you have on managing that tension?

Amy Neville: Well, I think the other thing too is, they’re our kids, so I guess the good news is we can force them into things still because we’re still responsible for them. But the other thing too, if you have your suspicions or if they haven’t actually said anything but you’re nervous about it or you want to know what’s going on, I would just ask my kid, hey, I heard about this thing fentanyl, have you ever heard of it? And one thing our teens love to do is to know more than us, right? And this is an opportunity for them to do that.

Same thing with social media. Hey, I’ve heard about drugs on Snapchat. Have you ever seen anything like that? The way they respond to those questions is going to tell you everything you need to know. If there’s red flags raised there, because they’re going to either like, freak out and be like, no, I don’t know anything about that. And then there’s your suspicion. Or they’re going to know a whole wealth of information and then that might be cause for concern. So, I’d just flat out ask them, innocently ask them, you know, I heard this podcast today, this lady was talking about this. What do you know about that?

Ailen Arreaza: I’ve heard, I saw something recently where they were sharing some parenting advice and there was like this trick of like, you probably don’t know about this, but I’ve heard something about fentanyl and like it makes them feel…

Amy Neville: Oh wait, Mom, I know. Da da da da da da da da da. And next thing that they’re telling you, oh yeah, these are the kids at school who do those types of thing. And you know, now you’re like, you might get way more information than you bargained for, but it’ll be helpful.

Ailen Arreaza: That’s helpful and better. And I just want to plus plus, don’t freak out. That just seems like the most important thing. And it’s so hard, but like take a deep breath, listen. Yeah. And support them in that moment. And freaking out is not the…I’m saying that to myself because I’m a freaker-outer with my kids all the time. So I’m just repeating that to me.

Amy Neville: You know, I’ve had kids call me, one thing I’ll tell them is that they can reach out to me to figure out who your trusted adult is. They need to talk to somebody, but they don’t know who their trusted adult is. Nine times out of 10, it is their parent, but they just don’t know how to approach their parent.

And I just remember when Alex came to us that night, he’s like, I gotta talk, he was literally, I gotta talk to you guys. And we sat down at the kitchen table and he proceeded to pour his heart out to us. And inside, I just was ready to break down and cry. And my heart was so sad.

But the thing that he said to us was like, I feel so stupid. So I know he’s already feeling low about what happened. And the last thing I want to do was make him feel any lower than he was already feeling. In fact, you know, I was like, no, you coming to us is incredibly smart. That’s the right thing to do. You recognize the problem and we’re talking about it and we’re going to get you help. And it’s just that level of calm and you know, because you want to do everything you can to love them through it.

On why everyone should have naloxone…

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, that’s the way. That’s the way. Love them through it.

So, I mean, one thing I also wanted to talk to you about was Narcan. And I remember there was also a little bit of a controversy or conversation among parents about whether you should have it, you should talk to your kids about it. Does that actually encourage them to experiment with drugs? And so I’m curious about what your take on that is. And if you could explain more to our listeners what that is and what it does.

Amy Neville: I think everyone should have naloxone. So Narcan is one of the brands of naloxone. Like I said, everybody should have it. It should be something as simple as having it in your first aid kit. This is a Kloxxado brand that I have. It’s a really simple little nasal spray. I give these out. I’ll give them to anybody who asks for them.

And in fact, I tell teens that if they need it, they need to ask me for it, no questions asked. Because it doesn’t mean they need it. But their circle of friends might need it. They might be hanging out in places that need it.

And you’re right, there is pushback, though, from some people. We shouldn’t let teens have it because this is how they…it encourages their use. I’m like, well, we have fire extinguishers all around the place. Are people setting fires at random? No, they’re not. You know, our kids are smart and we should trust them with something like this.

I did have an issue at a school where a girl asked me for it and I had some of my backpack, so I gave it to her. And I left. Well, her mom found out and the school freaked out on me about it. And I was like, we’re having the wrong conversation here. Like you need to talk to this young lady about why she thinks she even needs it in the first place. And their light bulb went off like, oh yeah, we’re not thinking clearly here. We just have upset parents. And I said, I would be happy to talk to her mom and smooth things over if we need to. So they let me back in that school. So things went OK there.

But it’s just crazy that we wouldn’t give our kids things to help them help each other, or not even each other, but it could be anywhere. This could happen anywhere. You could be with your family at the concert in a park and somebody goes down right in front of you. I will tell you, it’s really easy to use. It looks like this. It literally goes up the nose. You press the plunger and that medicine that comes out of there gets between the opioid receptors of the brain and the opioid that’s landing on the brain. You still need to call 911. You still need to, if you’re comfortable giving CPR, administer CPR.

But how do you know somebody needs it? Like they’re unconscious. They just go unconscious really quick or you come upon them and they’re unconscious. You can look for dilated pupils, the shallow labored breathing, maybe no breathing at all. And then you give them this.

The great thing about naloxone is that if you use it on someone and they don’t need it, it will not hurt them. Like your dog could eat it and your dog is going to be fine. And you keep giving naloxone and CPR until paramedics arrive and can take over for you. 

“The great thing about naloxone is that if you use it on someone and they don’t need it, it will not hurt them. Like your dog could eat it and your dog is going to be fine.”

It could save a lot of lives, especially when these kids are in places that you just don’t know. I mean, we’ve had kids collapsing on school campuses and this could make all the difference.

Ailen Arreaza: That’s so helpful to understand and to know how to use it and to see it. I actually had never seen what it looked like, so thank you for showing me. And yeah, it’s just like, it’s a tool, you know? Why would you not equip your kids with all the tools that they need to survive today’s world? So thank you so much.

Amy Neville: Exactly. Everybody should get it in their first aid kit or backpack or wherever.

Ailen Arreaza: And my understanding is that it’s available for free at a lot of places.

Amy Neville: If you type in “free naloxone near me,” it’s spelled N-A-L-O-X-O-N-E, things will come up. Things will come up to get it. I’m waiting on my shipment of 2,500. I get it donated to me, and then I give it out.

I mean, the amazing thing is I do a lot of community events. I’ve had people come to me at community events and like, hey, I got naloxone from you guys. I can’t believe I actually had to use it. And then they’ll share a story with us on how they’ve saved lives. Yeah, it’s happened at least four times. My sister’s a flight attendant. She saved somebody in the air.

On how to keep kids safe from fentanyl…

Ailen Arreaza: That’s such a powerful story. That’s incredible.

If you could give our listeners, just our parents who are listening, one piece of advice about how to keep their kids safe from fentanyl, what would you say to them?

Amy Neville: You know, when it comes to the increase in youth death and youth substance use, it’s all in direct correlation with the rise of social media. So first of all, if you can keep your kids off of it, keep them off of it as long as you possibly can.

If you’re already there, you gotta spend time there. Follow what they’re following. I know nobody wants to hear this, but you gotta follow what they’re following a couple times a week, take five to 10 minutes and look at the for you content that’s being pushed at them. Get your kids to follow positive content. Doesn’t mean they might engage with it, but you know, they might scroll through and maybe a little bit of drug prevention might sink into their brain and they might get the message subconsciously.

So really putting those safeguards in place and, you know, being able to spot check it, being able to do those things has got to be part of the deal. And I know if you’ve got an older kid, that’s been on it for a while, it’s going to be a lot harder to go back. So keep talking to them about it. They will listen. They will listen whether they are listening respectfully or paying attention, it’s going to seep in, but you’ve got to keep doing it. And we can’t shy away from these conversations.

Ailen Arreaza: Okay, this has been such an important and educational conversation, but it’s been heavy. So I’d love to end with a little bit of hope. And I hear that you’re talking to teens all the time. Is there anything that they’re sharing with you that they’re saying that gives you hope right now?

Amy Neville: You know, I’m always impressed with the kiddos that come to me like, you know what, they’ll delete Snapchat right in front of me, or they’re like, I’m not on social media, my parents keep me off of it, but now I understand why. And then the ones who are like, you know what, I’m going to be that voice of reason among my friends. I know that I can do that, I’m up for the task, you know, and they want to be involved and create a better future for themselves and their peer group and the kiddos that are coming up behind them. So as long as we keep building those numbers, we’re gonna get somewhere with this.

Ailen Arreaza: Are you on social media?

Amy Neville: So our website is Alexander Neville Foundation, Everything’s @ANFhelp. Everything comes up under that. So you can find more information about us at or, and all of our social media is at @anfhelp.

Ailen Arreaza: Thank you so much, Amy. This has been, like I said, so informative and it’s so inspiring to hear how you’ve turned just the most horrible heartbreak into action and the difference that you’re making in so many families’ lives. Thank you so much for all you do and thank you for being here.

Amy Neville: I’m so grateful that you’re having me today. We need to talk about this issue. The fentanyl crisis is greatly impacting our adolescents and thank you for recognizing the importance of that.

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In case you missed it, be sure to check out episode 7 — The childcare challenge: Parents, policy, and the power of community.

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