New York Times Letter to the Editor: It Was “Poisoning,” Not an “Overdose”

Sandra Bagwell of Mission, Texas, holding the remains of her son, Ryan, who died in 2022. “Ryan was poisoned,” she said. Credit…Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for The New York Times

To the Editor: Re: “In Fentanyl Deaths, Victims’ Families Say Word Choice Matters” (front page, March 11):

The heartbreaking story of 19-year-old Ryan Bagwell’s death further underscores the urgent need to reshape the narrative around drug-related fatalities. The distinction between “overdose” and “poisoning” is not semantic; it reflects the profound impact on families and caregivers grappling with loss.

Moreover, the stigma associated with “overdose” compounds the pain for grieving families. It unfairly implies personal responsibility and addiction, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. We must recognize that victims like Ryan were unsuspecting casualties, not willing participants in their demise.

Family caregivers who tend to their loved ones as they struggle with health challenges, including addiction, understand the severity of this crisis. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid exponentially more potent than heroin, is ravaging communities nationwide with a disproportionately higher lethal impact in American Indian, Alaska Native and Black populations.

Its presence in counterfeit pills poses lethal risks, as evidenced by Ryan’s case. The term “poisoning” rightly emphasizes the victimhood of those unknowingly exposed to this deadly substance.

In addition to diligent medication management to prevent accidental exposure to potent substances like fentanyl, the front lines of this crisis require comprehensive tools, including access to all F.D.A.-approved agents that reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, to respond in the event of a fentanyl poisoning.

Marvell Adams Jr., Baltimore The writer is the CEO of Caregivers Action Network. Click here to read the original publication in the New York Times