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'You've got to assume it has fentanyl in it': Fentanyl crisis claiming lives in Oregon and Washington

The conversation experts say every family needs to have.

David Molko, Ashley Koch

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Published: 12:10 AM PDT September 23, 2022
Updated: 12:30 AM PDT September 23, 2022

Griffin Hoffmann was a typical 16-year-old, doing his best in a world that hasn't been easy on kids in the past few years. He loved his friends. He had a heart for social justice. He struggled with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was a tennis star at McDaniel High in northeast Portland. He went to the movies, he played video games. And he did something many teens do — he experimented at times with drugs.

On a Monday morning in March, Griffin was found dead in his bedroom. He had overdosed on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more powerful than morphine. Police quickly found blue pills in his room, which had been manufactured to look like prescription oxycodone. That's what his mother, Kerry Cohen said Griffin thought it was when he took it.

Credit: KGW

"He thought he was getting an oxy. He might have vomited all night and woken up the next day. He didn't know he was getting poison," said Cohen.

Only a day before, another student at his school, Olivia Coleman, also died from a fentanyl overdose.

Kids experiment with drugs for a variety of reasons, ranging from curiosity to peer pressure to seeking coping mechanisms. According to the Centers for Disease Control, by 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol, half have tried marijuana and two in ten have tried prescription medication without a prescription. Sometimes that experimentation leads to addiction, sometimes it's only a phase. For Griffin, for Olivia and more and more other kids, it was deadly.

That typical adolescent risk-taking and experimentation now carries higher stakes than ever, because of the rise of fentanyl. In 2019, no one age 0-17 had died from a fentanyl overdose. Just two years later, that number reached 12.

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