Concord father reflects on 14-year-old daughter who died of fentanyl overdose
CONCORD, Calif. - International Overdose Awareness Day passes every Aug. 31, and those most acutely aware of it never expected to be.
Fentanyl has added an especially deadly layer to the opioid epidemic.
"Nobody knew, nobody knew how dangerous the pill was," said Walter Langhammer of Concord, reflecting on the death of his daughter Valentina, 14.
Valentina was a freshman at Concord High School, the eldest of three children, a happy girl who loved the outdoors, camping, and dirt bikes.
But on Aug. 21, Langhammer found his Valentina dead in her bed, from a pill someone gave her.
"So they tell them this pill is going to give them sweet dreams and be relaxing, but she was poisoned with fentanyl," said Langhammer.
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Concord police posted a photo on Facebook showing a blue bill resembling the one Valentina swallowed.
Investigators warned other teens and parents about the danger, as they try to find the source of the pills.
"What I heard is they make five dollars on a pill so they were just trying to get more people involved so their business can grow," said Langhammer.
Across the United States and the world, International Overdose Awareness Day is in its 21st year.
It's motto is: "Time to remember, time to act."
Overdose deaths are at epidemic levels, spiking even higher during the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic.
"People don't seek help because they are so ashamed, and the stigma in society is, it's just a junkie, whatever," said Jennifer Bisson, who organizes an annual vigil held in Daly City.
Bisson is a recovered addict herself, and got involved after losing several dear friends to overdose.
"These are not bad people and they're not all addicts overdosing," she explained. "There are other people trying something for the first time and they don't live through it."
On Tuesday, a team of Marin County parents handed out 40 boxes of life-saving Narcan at several locations.
Later, they held an online remembrance, including families who've lost bright, beautiful children- who were tempted to experiment and unwittingly got a "fentapill."
"They all learned the hard way one pill can kill because fentanyl is being laced in virtually all street drugs," said organizer Michelle Saevke Leopold, who moderated the forum.
Leopold's son, Trevor, died at 18 in his college dorm room after taking what he thought was a painkiller.
She has formed tight bonds with other parents who have experienced the same loss.
"It is tragic this group that I'm in, but I will spend the rest of my life fighting for my boy and for Trevor and for all of them," said mom Tori Croft, describing how her college-bound son died of an accidental overdose.
For Walter Langhammer, planning a memorial service this coming Saturday, the loss of Valentina is still sinking in.
"It's really hard, especially when I wake up, thinking of her," he said, noting that her younger brother and sister miss their sibling deeply.
Langhammer hopes her death might save other young lives, by instilling caution.
"She is an angel now, next to God, and in a safe place,"
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