OWN TV host Dr. Laura Berman is issuing a warning to parents of adolescents about the alarming and growing rate of opioid-related deaths in America, just days after she discovered her teenage son dead of an apparent overdose.
Berman spoke to Fox News on Tuesday from her home in Santa Monica, Calif., where on Sunday, she found her son Samuel “Sammy” Berman Chapman dead nearly an hour after her husband, Samuel Chapman, delivered him lunch to his bedroom. Paramedics were unable to revive the teen and information found at the scene shows Sammy may have been in communication with a drug dealer on the Snapchat app. He’s believed to have suffered an apparent overdose after taking fentanyl-laced Xanax or Percocet. Toxicology reports are still pending.
“Like a lot of adolescent kids, especially boys but girls too, who are pumped full of hormones and feel immortal and infallible and are stuck at home, bored, stiff and trying to connect, [Sammy] did something stupid,” Berman recalled.
With the help of the Narcotics Division of the Santa Monica Police Department, Berman and her husband, Samuel Chapman, are trying to piece together what happened. She said a screenshot from Sammy’s Snapchat account appears to show he was in communication with a drug dealer who provided a “marketing sheet” of drugs and prices. Berman said she believes the drug dealer delivered Sammy laced drugs but that her son would not have had the intention of consuming fentanyl.
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“I know he did not know he was taking fentanyl. He was not interested in that; he was scared of it. He did not actively understand addiction and did not want to be addicted yet unfortunately, most American teenagers experiment in these fentanyl-laced supposedly relatively innocent experimental drugs,” she said.
Berman said she and Chapman had an open dialogue with Sammy about drugs when they first discovered his past cannabis use. She said the couple “did not encourage or allow it” and “watched him very carefully.” Berman and Chapman have two other sons: Jackson, 15 and Ethan, 23.
“Kids think, ‘Oh I can just take this once and I won’t get addicted’ or ‘I can try this once to see what it feels like,’ not knowing it’s going to kill them,” Berman warned. “They need to know these dealers they’re meeting with are likely giving them fentanyl-laced products. That’s really easy for anyone to overdose on, but especially a teenager.”
In her conversations with authorities, Berman said she’s learned even more now about how the opioid crisis in America was a pandemic “way before COVID-19.”
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“We know it’s been a pandemic but a silent one,” Berman shared. “It is unbelievably addictive and brain-ruining and life-shattering and almost impossible to beat. The level of deaths and suicides even from just the pain of trying to get sober from that is just astronomical.”
The “Language of Love” podcast host shared she’s learned that there have been 200 deaths within the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) school system in the last year that appear to be from a fentanyl overdose. Her warning to parents much like herself is to use her son’s death as a “teachable moment.”
“Don’t think your kid is safe just because they’re sheltering at home with you,” Berman said. “Even if your teenager isn’t really giving you the credibility and listening to you, they do deeply care about what is happening with their peers. If they can relate to my son and see themselves in him and see what happened to him, use that. Use that to get through to your children.”
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Within hours of posting about her son’s death to Instagram, Berman said she’s “overwhelmed” with “hundreds” stories from similar parents whose children have died from drug overdoses, particularly counterfeit drugs.
Berman and her family’s approach to searching for more answers about what was in Sammy’s system and how is multi-pronged. In addition to one day becoming an advocate against the opioid pandemic, Berman said she believes big tech companies like Snapchat can do more.
“What we need is for Snapchat and Twitter and all of the platforms to help the police get the predators that are killing our children. Snapchat is very clear that they don’t support drug dealing and I’m sure whenever their algorithm finds a page advertising drug dealing they take it down, but that doesn’t stop the drug dealer. They’re like whack-a-moles. They just pop up with a new account seconds later,” she said.
Snapchat released a statement on Monday in response to Sammy’s death.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Samuel Berman Chapman and we are heartbroken by his passing,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We are committed to working together with law enforcement in this case and in all instances where Snapchat is used for illegal purposes. We have zero-tolerance for using Snapchat to buy or sell illegal drugs.”
The spokesperson said the company was “constantly improving” its capabilities to detect drug-related activity. Berman, however, said authorities have informed her that apps like Snapchat rarely assist in helping to pin down the drug dealers. Instead, they just seek to remove the account.
“We haven’t heard from [Snapchat.] Any parent blames themselves more than anything else. Snapchat did not deliver the drugs to my son’s door. What I hold Snapchat accountable for is catching the one that did it and the ones that are doing it to other children and parents around the country,” she said.
Berman added: “I don’t hold them accountable for his death but I hold them accountable for his justice.”
A rep for Snapchat did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
“Cops say there’s a rash of this happening. They’re finding kids dead all over the place and we weren’t the first ones to be going through this tragedy,” the heartbroken mother said.
Berman recounted finding her son dead on Sunday on her Instagram. “My beautiful boy is gone. 16 years old. Sheltering at home,” she wrote on Instagram, along with a photo of her and her son hugging. “My heart is completely shattered and I am not sure how to keep breathing. I post this now only so that not one more kid dies.”
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“A drug dealer connected with him on Snapchat and gave him fentinyl [sic] laced Xanax or Percocet (toxicology will tell) and he overdosed in his room. They do this because it hooks people even more and is good for business but It causes overdose and the kids don’t know what they are taking,” her social media post continues.
Bill Bodner the DEA Special agent In Charge in Los Angeles told Fox 11 that what happened to Sammy is happening to other kids across the U.S.
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He said counterfeit pills pushed on social media are made to look just like real Xanax or other types of drugs, but, they are typically fentanyl — which can be deadly.
“It’s something made in a filthy clandestine lab in Mexico. There’s no quality control. The dosing is extremely inconsistent. It only takes 2.5 mg of fentanyl to kill you,” Bodner told the station.
The “In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” host added that the pandemic is adding to the pressure and tribulation kids around the country are facing as they are stuck at home, out of school due to the coronavirus pandemic rather than in school with their peers. They’re turning more and more toward communicating on social media, she said.
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Berman, who recalled to Fox News Sammy’s good grades, love of science and eagerness to go to college and travel Europe, said she ultimately has decided to speak up to raise awareness.
“I just felt so helpless and full of rage in addition to the grief. I just thought, I’m going to post this to my people because if I can save one kid tonight, it’ll be worth it,” she concluded.
Fox News’ David Aaro contributed to this report.