Bay Area families honor loved ones lost to overdoses

Monday was International Overdose Awareness Day, marked by about 1,000 events around the U.S.

The message: overdose deaths are preventable and more must be done to save lives.

"When your 13-year-old needs surgery, they get painkillers and that's how it starts," said Bonnie McNamara, who has led an annual IOAD event in Daly City for several years.  

A few dozen people, dressed in commemorative purple, gathered at Mussel Rock Park, to remember lost loved ones.
They brought photographs and wrote the names on a memorial wall. 

McNamara described many years of trying to help her son Bobby get clean prior to his overdose death. 

"I used to talk to him about the addiction and he'd say 'Mom I got this, don't worry, I can stop whenever I want,' but then it had him," McNamara said. 

International Overdose Awareness Day started in Australia at a Salvation Army Chapter almost 20 years ago. 

"My first thought is how did we as a community fail this child, what did we not do?" posed one speaker, at Marin County's virtual event. 

"Because it's not a parent problem, it's not a school problem, it's all of our problem," she concluded. 

Various agencies and individuals, who work in education, addiction, and recovery, took part in the Zoom session.  

"Personally I think it's so important to end the stigma around overdose," said Michelle Leopold, a parent and organizer.  

A year ago, Leopold and husband Jeff were settling their eldest son into college at Sonoma State University. But only 3 months into his freshman year, Trevor, 18, was found dead in his dorm room. 

"Trevor wasn't using heroin, he wasn't using crystal meth, he wasn't using needles, and that's what you think about when you think about overdose," said Michelle, "so that's been part of my education. "

Trevor struggled with anxiety and sometimes turned to marijuana and pills.

"That was how he self-medicated, and he made one wrong mistake and he's no longer with us," said dad Jeff.

Unbeknownst to the couple, on the weekend he died, Trevor traveled by bus to Marin County to buy what he thought was a narcotic painkiller.

"Trevor died from one street pill that was supposed to be Percocet and there was three types of fentanyl in it," said Michelle.  

Fentanyl, lethal and widespread, is expected to push U.S. overdose deaths to almost 90,000 this year.   

"It's a good time for other kids in high school or even younger, to realize what could happen to them," said Jeff Leopold. 
"This could be anybody's child. One wrong mistake, one wrong pill can kill you."

His parents were aware that Trevor was struggling academically and had seen a college counselor, as he considered returning home and attending community college.  

Only this week, police turned over evidence from his dorm room, including a handwritten "to do" list Trevor had composed. 

"It was about how he was going to change his life, and it was his own action plan crafted the week before," said Michelle, "but unfortunately one pill ended his whole plan and all of our hopes and dreams." 

Like many parents, the Leopolds turned their grief into action, speaking out about youth addiction and working to get life-saving Narcan into schools.

They are determined to end drug stigma, which they say keeps families silent, so neither they or their loved one get the help and support they need.  

"We speak out so hopefully others can learn from Trevor's death, and we can prevent other parents from walking in our very, very painful shoes," said Michelle. 

Authorities have told the Leopolds they believe they know who sold Trevor deadly fentanyl but cannot make an arrest until they have built a case. 

In the meantime, younger sibling Parker has now started college, and Trevor is deeply missed by his family.

"So much, every day," said Michelle sadly.