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She lost her son to an overdose. Now, she's pushing for accountability

She lost her son to an overdose. Now, she's pushing for accountability
Posted at 4:18 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 18:52:24-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Christy Farmer can no longer fully enjoy Thanksgiving.

"The holidays are coming and he's not going to be there. The empty chair is very hard to see," Farmer said.

This will be her third Thanksgiving without her son Cullen Hazelwood who died from an overdose in May of 2019.

She lost her son to an overdose. Now, she's pushing for accountability

"He was 18 years old," Farmer said.

Farmer said she believes Cullen did not know the Xanax he took that day was laced with fentanyl.

"We had to make the decision to take him off life support," Farmer said.

She is now talking with John Shinholser, the President of the McShin Foundation, one of Central Virginia's recovery communities, and Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor about how to prevent what happened to her son from happening to other families.

Overdose deaths skyrocketed 35% in Virginia during the pandemic.

Fentanyl is a major reason why.

"We have a poison out there that is unlike any other poison, and that same poison is used to contaminate other supplies," Shinholser said.

Shinholser said an increasing number of teens are experimenting with drugs that are laced with fentanyl.

"Cullen didn't know he was taking a pill of death," Shinholser said.

He said many of those kids have mental health problems.

Sixty percent of adolescents in treatment programs also meet the criteria for another mental illness, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

"He had anxiety and he self-medicated," Farmer said about Cullen.

Shinholser is now pushing for a major public education campaign about the dangers of fentanyl and an existing law that protects people from prosecution if they stay and render aid to someone experiencing an overdose or call 911.

"Every paper you open up you see a COVID announcement, you should see a Good Samaritan announcement. Stuff like that we're failing at," Shinholser said.

He also wants emergency legislation to hold drug dealers accountable if someone takes a drug laced with fentanyl and dies from it.

"Give the law enforcement, prosecutors and judges what they need to get rid of the fentanyl poisoning without interfering with the recovery process," Shinholser said.

Shannon Taylor said an appellate court's decision ties the hands of prosecutors and judges when it comes to prosecuting dealers.

"Once the drug is passed over, and the individual now has control of that substance there is no ability to hold somebody accountable for the death," Taylor said.

So, she proposes legislation that would change sentencing guidelines to enhance the penalty for peddling drugs laced with fentanyl.

"Perhaps there needs to be a review of fentanyl as an aggravating factor," Taylor said.

"It's not going to bring Cullen back, but it might help someone else," Christy Farmer said.

She lost her son to an overdose. Now, she's pushing for accountability

Taylor does not necessarily believe the emergency legislation would deter dealers from selling drugs, but it might keep them in jail and stop their drug peddling.