The best analogy is Russian Roulette: Teenagers in America are dying daily because they think they’re taking pills like Xanax or Adderall, but really they’re copycat pills laced with fentanyl -- which can kill instantly.
Kids aren’t taking the pills to get high; they’re taking them to cope. And now a group of grieving fathers is trying to find purpose in their loss -- like Jamie McCarthy, who took the stage to a packed auditorium at Seaholm High School.
“I never could have imagined that I’d be at the high school he graduated from speaking to all of you,” said McCarthy to the students.
Jamie McCarthy’s son Jack graduated from Seaholm during the pandemic. In September 2021, 19-year-old Jack collapsed and died in the family’s kitchen.
His father, Jamie, an advertising executive, was out of state on a shoot at the time when his wife Cathy called to tell him.
“I was in the middle of a set, and I can’t really remember,” said Jamie. “I think that’s the mind’s way of handling the trauma, but I remember my head was down in a parking lot, and I was screaming.”
The bright, popular, and loved 19-year-old was the victim of a drug-induced homicide. Jack had anxiety. He exercised to help channel the anxiousness, he was into mixed martial arts, but it wasn’t enough.
He didn’t want to worry his friends and family with his anxiety, so he found a guy on Snapchat who was selling Xanax.
He bought four pills. They were counterfeit, laced with Fentanyl. He took one and died instantly.
“I call it the ghost that killed my son,” Jamie said, referencing the Snapchat ghost logo.
For Jamie, son of radio icon J.P. McCarthy, the first year was an exercise in survival.
One of the only places offering a respite was the garage he and Jack had turned into a home gym.
“I’ve come in here without meaning to just lay on the floor and cry,” Jamie said.
To survive, Jamie came to the realization he needed to channel his rage.
“You have to have a purpose,” Jamie said. “You have to find a purpose through your loss.”
Then the stories from so many other parents whose beautiful bright kids were murdered by counterfeit prescription drugs started coming his way, and he knew what he wanted to do.
Their mission is to go into high schools and talk to the students to let them know if they buy prescription drugs from something like Snapchat, they’re likely counterfeit, and you have a greater than 50/50 chance they’re laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl.
On stage at Seaholm, McCarthy asked the students by a show of hands how many knew friends who suffered from anxiety or depression. Plenty of hands went up.
Kids tend to sniff out insincerity quickly, but McCarthy was honest and raw with them; they leaned in and listened. He told the students to tell their parents or the adults in their lives if they have those feelings.
“I know it’s hard, but believe me, I know it’s not nearly as hard as the alternative,” Jamie said.
After the presentation, the kids swarmed him, telling him it was the best speech ever. They got the message. “If I change one kid’s mind, that’s a victory.”