'Talk about blindsided.' Family shares heartbreak of losing two sons to fentanyl overdoses

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Thursday, May 25, 2023
Dangers of fentanyl
Dangers of fentanyl

APEX, N.C. (WTVD) -- Walking through Diane and Will Stephenson's Apex home it's evident they love their children. Pictures of their five sons are at every corner of their home. Tuesday night she pointed out some of the special moments captured on camera.

"This is the last picture of the three of them. It was so special, " Diane Stephenson said as she pointed to a picture of her son Parker Stephenson.

She reflects on Parker and his older brother William Stephenson, a lot. Memories are all these parents have. "Parker and William were our two sons we loss from fentanyl overdoses," said Stephenson.

Parker died in May 2018 at 27 years old. William overdosed in January 2022. He was 34 years old.

"They both were very outgoing. They were avid Duke fans, and just lived life fully," described Stephenson.

Their dad describes William as phenomenal and Parker was athletic. "They were all special. We had five boys. Fentanyl took two sons away," said Will Stephenson.

Diane and Will Stephenson initially had no idea what fentanyl was until it took their sons.

"Talk about blindsided. We were blindsided. We knew nothing about it. Nowadays, everything out there on the streets is laced with fentanyl, just about every bit of it. And so it's just so dangerous."

Justin Garrity is the Director of recovery at Healing Transitions in Raleigh. He said stories like the Stephenson's are becoming too common with the impact fentanyl is having on our community.

"We got to talk about it. This is not a continued use drug. It can be one-time use, overdose, and fatality," explained Garrity

He said people are taking these drugs expecting one thing and getting another. He said fentanyl is showing up in fake pills disguised as Percocet, Percocet, 30s, and Xanax.

"The fentanyl pills. They're easy to press, they're easy to sell. The difficulty with all this is you just don't know what you're getting. One pill could have 50% of fentanyl. Another pill could have 75," Garrity explained

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services more than 77% of overdose deaths in 2021 likely involved fentanyl. Garrity said the victims are getting younger.

"Children that are in high school may be taking drugs, they may be going to a party, they may be taking a drug that they think is safe, but it's not. It's laced with fentanyl. I think it's important to educate children, high schoolers, even middle schoolers about what an overdose looks like."

Garrity said it's going to take community support to tackle fentanyl and that's how the Stephensons are showing up in the name of their sons Parker and William.

"Once you've been through it, you know, really, that's part of our story now. And if we can help other families, then you know, we have decided that that's what we want to do," said Stephenson.