Two teen boys in Georgia died from lethal doses of fentanyl
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times more powerful than heroin
Twenty seconds is all it took to kill 19-year-old Dustin Manning.
His devastated parents, Greg and Lisa Manning, said the toxicology report found he had taken a toxic mix of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid so powerful it’s often fatal.
“The amount of fentanyl in his body was the equivalent to three grains of salt. That’s all it took to kill a 180-pound guy,” said Greg Manning.
Dustin died on Friday, May 26, in Lawrenceville, a suburb on the outskirts of Atlanta.
At 6:09 a.m., paramedics were called to a home with reports of an unresponsive teenager. Dustin was dead.
“I had told him I’d get him up early for work, and I came up around 5:45 to wake him up, and when I opened the door, he looked like he was tying his shoes. Very quickly I realized, grabbed him and he was cold,” said Greg Manning.
Lisa Manning was at the gym when she got the call from her husband. “He said, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, call 911.’ I didn’t ask any questions. I knew.”
Less than an hour later, at 6:53 a.m., another phone call was placed to 911.
Half a mile down the road, 18-year-old Joseph Abraham was found slumped on the floor by his parents, Dave and Kathi Abraham. He had no pulse.
“I started yelling and yelling and yelling, ‘Joe, Joe – wake up, man!’ And then I realized there was something really wrong,” said Dave Abraham.
“As soon as I saw him, I knew and I just ran and I just started holding him and I could tell he was cold,” said Kathi Abraham.
“Dave was on the phone to 911 and I said, ‘It’s too late. We can’t fix this,’” she added, as tears welled in her eyes.
Dustin Manning and Joseph Abraham were childhood friends. They played on the same Little League team. For two years, Joseph’s father coached them.
But in middle school, both began to dabble in drugs.
The Abrahams believe their son had his first dose of opioids when he had his wisdom teeth removed. He was prescribed the drugs again when he broke his ankle – and later, his hand – playing sports.
“When you’re given a prescription from a doctor, we often just trust that,” Kathi Abraham said.
She believes Joseph turned to drugs after dealing with two major tragedies at a young age.
“He lost two of his really good friends in eighth grade – one to cancer and one to a drowning. He really had a hard time. He struggled with that,” she said.
At the age of 12, Dustin told his parents he felt like he was suffering depression. He soon started drinking beer and taking drugs.
“He told us the drugs are what gave him ‘the out’ and made him feel good,” Lisa Manning said.
Both parents sought help from treatment centers, not once, but time and time again. Lisa Manning even began working at one of the centers to keep an eye on her son and better understand addiction.
But Dave Abraham says the treatments weren’t enough to fight his son’s battle.
“Once they take (opioids), there’s a switch in their brain that gets flipped on – and to get that switched flipped back could take up to five years, and most treatments are 35 days and they’re back out,” he said.
According to both sets of parents, Dustin and Joe hadn’t been in touch in recent years, yet it appears they may have bought the drug that killed them from the same dealer. According to police records, some of the pill wrappings were almost identical.
There were fears in the community that other kids may have bought the same drugs.
As the parents started to gain insight into the world of opioid addiction, they realized that getting the drug is fast and easy.
Like most parents, they had high hopes for their beloved sons and their great potential.
Walking through her son’s bedroom, Lisa Manning pointed at a US flag on the wall. “This flag was a symbolic thing for him. He always wanted to go in the service. He always wanted to be a Marine. He would have made a great Marine,” she said, breathing a deep sigh.
“Joe was a sensitive young man, he was funny, he had a big heart”, Kathi Abraham recalled. “He loved to fish, he loved to be outside and hike. He could have done anything he wanted. He was very smart, in advanced classes.”
Dave Abraham added: “He could watch a video on YouTube and go and play it on the piano. … Most dads teach their kids how to fish. Joe taught me how to fish.”
Community in shock
Hopes for their children’s futures were dashed in an instant.
“This happened within 18 houses of each other to two young men on the same morning. The community was in total shock,” said Kathi Abraham.
The parents now attend a support group for people who have lost children to opioids. And in a sign of the times, the support group grows in size each month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects drug overdose deaths to top 64,000 in 2016 when the numbers are finalized. Most of these overdoses involved an opioid.
Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, was devised to treat chronic pain. A tiny amount can be fatal.
The number of people killed by fentanyl has risen from 3,000 to more than 20,000 in just three years – a 540% increase.
President Trump has declared opioid addiction a public health emergency, which officials say will allow the federal government to waive some regulations and give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds. It does not provide any additional funding to deal with the crisis.
Like many critics, the Manning and Abraham families say it doesn’t go far enough.
“This is a just a step, a small step,” said Greg Manning.
“The problem with treatment right now is there is a very low percentage of success. The longer they stay in treatment, that success rate goes up,” said Dave Abraham.
They also want tougher punishment for dealers.
“These drugs are killing people and there’s a lot of drug dealers around,” Kathi Abraham said.
“To me it’s poison or murder – anyone who sells fentanyl should have a life sentence,” her husband added.
Join the conversation
These parents believe prevention is key and education needs to start as early as fifth grade.
They have started spreading awareness in their community in the hope it will save another family from suffering the loss of a child.
As they tried to hold back tears, Lisa Manning and Kathi Abraham conceded their lives are forever changed.
“You change. You’re never going be the same. I’ll never be the person I was. It’s like a knife deep in your heart,” said Lisa Manning.
“We wanted to have two children because we wanted them to have each other,” said Kathi Abraham as she cried. “Now (our son) Matthew is an only child.”
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that drug overdose deaths, not opioid overdose deaths alone, are expected to top 64,000 for 2016.