MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) – A group of parents has come together to spread fentanyl awareness in memory of their children who were poisoned by the drug.
The group of angel parents called “4 Them We Fight” is helping to spread putting graphics on billboards throughout the country, including in Morgantown. The “micro outdoor” billboard on Chestnut Ridge Road near Dunkin’ Donuts has recently been showing two new graphics to spread Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness.
As of Oct. 18, the group of around 2,000 parents has put up around 87 graphics on billboards in the past six months. This was before bringing them to West Virginia.
The first graphic is of Joshua Shelton and Daniel Fortney, two Westover residents that were victims of fentanyl poisoning. Shelton’s mother, Mary Bell, said that this specific graphic is to show that the poisoning is local. The second is of two rows of faces who have been poisoned from fentanyl in West Virginia to show that it is statewide. A third graphic is coming soon of even more faces to show that it is also a nationwide problem.
“When the person who is deceased was deceived, if it happens to be a first-time user or someone who is experimenting and you know, they think they’re getting an Adderall or Percocet and it has fentanyl in it, then you know, they were poisoned,” said Bell. Most of those who have lost their lives to fentanyl did not overdose, they were poisoned, she said.
In 2021, more than 107,000 lives were lost to opioid overdoses, and of those, 66%, a little over 77,000 were due to fentanyl poisoning. This means that they were not necessarily overdoses, but poisoning.
Bell currently lives in Tennessee but wanted to have the graphics put up in Morgantown because West Virginia leads in drug-related deaths throughout the country. In a state that leads in these tragic deaths, these are the first fentanyl poisoning billboards to be put on display within the state.
Joshua Shelton is forever 39 and lived between Morgantown and Westover. He loved music, animals, and West Virginia’s nature. Shelton’s mother said that he was the type of person that everyone loved because he could bring himself to any level in any conversation. Shelton struggled with alcohol use disorder and occasionally liked to do party drugs. One night, he went to buy what he thought was cocaine, but it ended up being 100% fentanyl. “We miss him terribly, and—but I’m not going to let his death be in vain. If just talking about this can save one person, it—it’s worth it,” Bell added.
“4 Them We Fight” is planning to put graphics on billboards in Clarksburg and Charleston, West Virginia as well.
As of June 2022, fentanyl test strips are no longer considered drug paraphernalia and are legal in West Virginia.