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Person of the Week
‘Finding Hope’ a Way to Get Word Out on Fentanyl
Lisa Deane with her son Joe in happier times. Joe was a star athlete, brother, son, cousin and friend. He sadly became a statistic in 2018 when he unknowingly used street drugs laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Deane)
Words simply cannot convey what a parent experiences with the loss of child. The grief and pain and anger can often lead to a spiral of defeat not just for parents, but for an entire family unit. Sadly, Lisa Deane and her family know this reality all too well. Her son Joe died from an accidental fentanyl poisoning in December 2018.
That loss set her on a course to prevent others from suffering the same fate. She formed an outreach organization that successfully lobbied for effective legislation and most recently partnered with Branford native Jill Nesi to create a film highlighting the issue.
Lisa says her beautiful son had become addicted to opioids after a chance use of them during high school.
“He would light up a room. That is the truth. Joe had the gift of making anybody and everybody comfortable right from ‘Hello.’ Extremely funny and quick-witted,” says Lisa. “Family meant more to him more than anything in the whole wide world.”
Lisa says that Joe was committed to sobriety and the intense journey that ensued.
“We just had no idea about what heroin even was,” Lisa says. “We tried everything. Joe tried; we tried. We really thought that he was on the right path. Addiction doesn’t discriminate or play politics. This can happen to anyone.”
However, even before the year 2019 had broken Lisa had already embarked on a mission to prevent this tragedy from devastating another family. With the encouragement of her Madison neighbors Karen Siclari and her daughter Kelsey Handelman, Lisa arose from the worst moment of her life and began the task of creating an organization dedicated to sharing the knowledge of how deadly fentanyl is.
Just a little over a month after Joe’s passing, she created Demand Zero, a non-profit that is dedicated to educating parents and the public about how prevalent and dangerous poisons like fentanyl are.
“We really wanted to help those who still have time,” says Lisa.
Lisa’s efforts began to yield positive results quite quickly. In June 2019, she and the organization were instrumental in getting a Connecticut law passed that stiffened penalties for those caught dealing fentanyl, a huge step in this education process, according to Lisa.
“The bill calls fentanyl for what it is, a deadly narcotic, instead of a synthetic, which it had been labeled,” says Lisa.
For Lisa, it’s about all about getting the information out to the public.
“We need to get the word out there. Fentanyl isn’t a drug or a synthetic; it’s a poison. We can’t be afraid to stand up and speak out. No one is really talking about it. Non-profits are, but we need our leaders and politicians to help and get the word out. They should be screaming from the rooftops about the danger of fentanyl. This poison is pressed into tablets that look exactly like Xanax, Adderall, whatever, and is directly marketing to kids. They actually market to kids through Tik-Tok and other social media,” says Lisa.
Lisa wasn’t satisfied with just passing a law. She, in collaboration with Branford native Jill Nesi, a composer and film maker, has written and acted in a film that directly tackles the issue of the fentanyl health crisis. The film is called Finding Hope, and it is a stark, frank project that drives home the danger of fentanyl.
The film is not a documentary, but a short, scripted piece. Lisa has recently premiered the film to an very positive response. She now wants to get the film and message to as many people as she can.
“I have shown it to law enforcement, and sent it to the [U.S Department of Justice], the [Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA], and now begins the real work-getting it into schools, getting it into PTA meetings. Education, education, education. The response has been very positive,” says Lisa. “The film has had a real impact. I can’t thank everyone involved enough. It was a real collaboration and so much work went into it.”
The overdose and death statistics in Connecticut continue to rise at an alarming level. Almost 80 percent of these deaths are due to fentanyl, according to DEA statistics and Connecticut state data.
Lisa’s advice is straight and simple.
“Just have this information in your back pocket. God forbid you ever have to put it to use, but you need this knowledge. Even kids going into 5th grade need to know this is out there and deadly,” Lisa says. “We are trying to arm the kids with the tools they need…because of what could happen. One pill can kill now. You do not have to be addicted to die these days. Some poor kid thinking he’s taking Adderall can die from this.”
Lisa says to seek help as soon as an issue arises.
“Do not be afraid to reach out to law enforcement. Many parents like me think, ‘Oh, Joe will get arrested and that will be the wakeup call.’ But I should have reached out from the beginning. They can direct you to resources that I never knew existed,” says Lisa.
Just two weeks ago the DEA issued its first urgent warning on fentanyl in more than six years, stating in part that illegal and counterfeit fentanyl pills are “killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate.” According to the DEA, more than two out of five counterfeit pills seized this year contained a lethal dose of fentanyl, and they have seized almost 10 million counterfeit pills this year so far, which is more than the past two full years combined.
For more information about the dangers of fentanyl and other drugs or to find out how to help, visit www.demandzero.org. Readers can also private message Lisa through Facebook to schedule a showing of the film for your school or organization.