PEWAUKEE, Wis. – The head of the country’s Drug Enforcement Agency has called fentanyl the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced.
National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day was observed by the federal agency on Sunday to remember loved ones lost to fentanyl poisoning.
Wisconsin families took the opportunity to share their stories and turn their pain into positive in hopes of averting more deaths.
You may remember the Rachwal family from our half-hour “Fighting Fentanyl” special in April.
Since then, Erin and Rick have started a foundation in memory of their son Logan, who unknowingly used fentanyl in his UW-Milwaukee dorm and died at age 19.
“Because he passed away on Valentine’s Day, we thought it was a really good thing to call the organization ‘Love, Logan,'” Erin Rachwal explained. “He was a kind, sensitive, compassionate kid, and I know he would look down and say, ‘Well done, mom and dad. You know, he would because after the struggle he went through, he wouldn’t want anyone going through what he went through.
Erin and Rick, who have made it their mission to speak out about trauma in the hope that no other parent has to go through their worst nightmare, don’t want another family going through what they’ve been through.
“People need to talk about it,” Rick Rachwal said. “All is not rosy like you see on people’s social media pages. I mean, what we’ve been through is they don’t want to talk about these difficult conversations. They don’t want to have difficult conversations.
After attending the DEA Family Summit on the Overdose Epidemic in June, the couple knew they had to start speaking out.
“You can’t just tell kids not to use drugs,” Erin Rachwal said. “It will never work with this epidemic. We need to educate them and get to the heart of them, and really get them to understand what’s going on through personal stories and through faces.
Faces that, thanks to many donations, are now on a billboard.
“Hopefully this gets people talking, asking questions and talking to their kids,” Rick Rachwal said.
“I think the real turning point for us was finding people, like-minded people, who were willing to support us and work with us,” Erin Rachwal added.
The Rachwals teamed up with a group called “Saving Others for Archie,” or SOFA for short, to bring their vision for a billboard to life.
Lauri Badura and her husband Andy founded the group in 2015 after losing their son the previous year.
“In 2014, fentanyl was something you hadn’t heard of, and nobody knew about it, so it was an absolute shock when we lost our son,” Badura explained.
Archie was 19 when he died of an opioid overdose. Not wanting his death to be in vain, his family continues to share his memories.
“He was like, ‘Mom, when are you taking me to New York?’ Every year it was when he was three, five, seven, eight, ten years old, and finally, I was like, ‘When you’re 16. On your 16th birthday, that’s what we do,’” Badura said. “To this day, it breaks my heart – breaks my heart, that we didn’t do it. It wasn’t right where he was on his 16th birthday.
Archie has finally arrived in New York on yet another billboard in Times Square alongside Logan and Charlie, who are the faces of three organizations that have come together to save lives and raise awareness.
The opportunity arose after the Wisconsin billboard was featured on a Fox News segment that caught the eye of a marketing executive who oversees HD Mega Screen’s programming in Times Square. In support of the message, he made a special offer to SOFA, which teamed up with Love, Logan and a California band called Song for Charlie.
“I kept thinking, this is bittersweet,” Badura said. “Can I bring him to New York?” Is this some weird way of trying to get him to come to New York? I kept thinking, this is so weird, you know? It was like surreal.
The bittersweetness is something the Rachwals also feel when they look up and see Logan.
“He modeled for Kohl’s when he was little, and you know, it’s a way for his face to do something and make a difference,” Erin Rachwal said.
The Wisconsin billboard can be seen at different locations each week around Waukesha, Milwaukee and Washington counties through the end of October.
If you would like to donate to the poster campaign, you can do so by contributing to either of the following organizations:
Love, Logan by clicking here.
Saving the Others for Archie by clicking here.