North Texas Advocates Hope White House Drug Plan Erases Stigma, Raises Awareness

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It's been nearly two years, and still, Stephanie Hellstern’s memory of the night she lost her son is fresh. 

"I actually found him right back here in my backyard,” said Hellstern.

She said Kyle was poisoned by a single pill he believed to be Percocet.

"On the autopsy, it said acute fentanyl intoxication. And at that time, I didn't even know what fentanyl was,” she said.

Hellstern's since learned, poisoning by the synthetic opioid is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45.

Through her non-profit, Kyle Still Speaks, she now devotes her time to making others aware of the illicit version of the drug often disguised and sold as something else.

Hellstern has held rallies, teamed up with other parents around the nation, and recently sat down with Governor Greg Abbott. And soon, she could have help from the White House.

Today, the Biden administration announced a new drug control strategy that focuses on harm reduction by increasing access to fentanyl test strips, the overdose treatment Narcan and clean needles.

At Dallas’s Nexus Recovery Center, it’s a strategy seen as an important step in not only putting more resources into the community but also removing a stigma.

"If we could shift our thinking as a society and as a community about harm reduction and that it's not assisting people with a Substance Use Disorder using that substance, it's really overdose prevention,” said CEO Heather Ormand.

SUD is a chronic disease that the Health and Human Services Commission estimates impacts 6.1 million adults and 162,000 youth in Texas.

Experts say it’s both preventable and treatable.

But Ormand said to get those suffering into treatment, they must be kept alive.

She said on its own, Biden’s plan may not be enough to solve the problem, but it is progress.

And as Hellstern continues to share the story of her son's poisoning, she agrees it's a step in the right direction.

"I think it's good that they're acknowledging it finally because that was the biggest thing,” said Hellstern. "I don't want anyone else to have this happen to them."

On June 3 at the Tarrant County Courthouse, Hellstern will join the Association of People Against Lethal Drugs in a nationwide rally to remember the more than 100,000 Americans who died last year and to advocate for change.

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