Family of former AU student starts organization to bring awareness to fentanyl overdoses

Goal is to bring awareness and make testing strips accessible

Family of former AU student starts organization to bring awareness to fentanyl overdoses

Editor’s note: this story contains references to substance abuse and overdoses. 

Six months after her son Eli’s passing, Beth Weinstock sorted through his backpack, a symbol and last memory of who he was. While pulling out school notes, art supplies and candy he saved from Valentine’s Day, she remembered Eli as a “sensitive soul” who connected with people in a unique and special way.

Eli Weinstock passed away this past March. A sophomore in the School of Communication, he was known for his love for his home state of Ohio, his volunteer work at local D.C. organizations and his enthusiasm for his favorite sports teams, like the Ohio State football team.

“He was creative and he also was on track to becoming just a really great man,” Beth Weinstock said. “He was diligent.”

Eli’s passing was a shock to everyone who knew him, especially to his family, Weinstock said. According to the coroner’s report, Weinstock said, Kratom, a legal herbal supplement and Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, were found in his body. 

Weinstock described her son’s death as an unintentional overdose. 

“Anybody who is taking something or ingesting something that is intentionally poisoned with fentanyl and the person who is ingesting is unaware of the fentanyl, to me that’s murder,” Weinstock said. 

Overdoses have increased by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 93,000 people died of an overdose in 2020, some of which experts attributed to the rise in the prevalence of fentanyl, according to a New York Times report

Weinstock said that knowing her son was a victim of this, she is turning her grief into bringing awareness to the growing problem.

Weinstock and her daughter Olivia, 22, began their own organization called BirdieLight. She said because of Eli’s death and her experience in the medical field, as well as Olivia’s experience in small business development, she was in a “uniquely poised” position to start this campaign.

The organization is focused on bringing awareness to how fentanyl can be laced in drugs like cocaine and heroin that some people might unknowingly ingest at parties or in social gatherings. However, the biggest goal for Weinstock is to place fentanyl testing strips in the hands of high school and college-age people who are experimenting with these drugs.

“I want to push that because I think that is the radical concept of what we want to do that other organizations haven’t pushed for,” Weinstock said. 

According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition, a fentanyl test strip can identify the presence of fentanyl in drugs, since fentanyl doesn’t have a specific taste, smell or color. The strip is dipped into water mixed with a small amount of the drug residue, whether it be some of the powder or a corner of the pill. Weinstock said because of its easy use, she hopes that people will realize that taking a few minutes to test the drug before ingesting it could save their own or others’ lives.

“This is going to a party and maybe trying a line of coke not knowing that it is full of fentanyl,” Weinstock said. “This is killing people in epidemic proportions and this generation is taking the brunt of it. It’s hard for me to share the details of how Eli died, but this ugly truth is affecting families across the country and I am willing to take that pain and turn it into something that will save other kids’ lives.”

BirdieLight is currently not an official nonprofit organization, but Weinstock said she hopes to achieve that status soon. Currently, they are focusing on bringing awareness to the problem in Ohio. 

Weinstock said she thinks Eli would be proud that his tragic passing is being used to bring awareness to something that is killing other young people like him. A scholarship in his name and honor was also established at his high school.

“The drive to start it is really just built on love for Eli,” Weinstock said. “Eli didn’t want to die and he had a great future ahead of him and I think he would be very honored and proud that what happened to him, which is senseless and tragic, puts some good out into the world.”

To seek help or access information about accidental overdoses or harm reduction resources near you, visit the National Harm Reduction Coalition’s resource page. If you or a loved one are experiencing grief or trauma following the death of a loved one, visit the Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing resource page

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP(4357) for individuals and families facing mental or substance abuse disorders. 

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