Local teen spreads awareness of fentanyl epidemic through non-profit charity

Avery Kalafatas, an anti-fentanyl youth advocate and founder of the fentanyl awareness group Project 1 Life.

Courtesy of Project 1 Life

Avery Kalafatas, an anti-fentanyl youth advocate and founder of the fentanyl awareness group Project 1 Life.

Q&A with Avery Kalafatas

Meet fentanyl, the new leading cause of death for Americans aged 18-45. This synthetic opioid, which is 100 times stronger than morphine, is now a favorite of drug cartels that lace it into fake prescription pills to heighten their effect. These pills, which contain dangerous concentrations of fentanyl, are then sold through social media to unknowing users, who often have no way of knowing whether the pills they bought are legitimate.

Narcan can be used to reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose, but it may take several uses, or “hits,” to reduce the amount of fentanyl in one’s system to acceptable levels. (Courtesy of Project 1 Life)

Avery Kalafatas, a Saint Paul’s School boarding school student and Marin youth anti-fentanyl advocate, lost a loved one due to one of these pills. This tragedy, known as fentanyl poisoning, sparked Kalafatas’ desire to spread awareness around the fentanyl epidemic. In an interview with The Pitch, Kalafatas elaborated on how she has created change in advocating for more widespread anti-fentanyl resources for American teenagers.


Q: I understand you founded an organization, Project 1 Life, to spread awareness about the fentanyl epidemic. What are its main focuses?


A: “Yeah, so Project 1 Life is a teen run non-profit charity working to spread awareness around the dangers of prescription drug abuse in the face of the fentanyl epidemic, so it is solely awareness based through social media and through our [youth] ambassadors. It’s getting the knowledge out, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans [aged] 18-45, but we’re still clouded by the news around COVID-19 and other things going on that no one really know about this epidemic that is coming to harm a lot of teens and young adults.”


Q: What do Project 1 Life youth ambassadors do?


A: “Project 1 Life Ambassadors are inspiring teens and young adults working to spread awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and fentanyl poisoning in their communities by creating social media content, spreading classroom material, recruiting fellow ambassadors, and distributing Project 1 Life informational posters.”


Q: What can be done to reverse the effects of an overdose?


A: “The quickest way to reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose [or any synthetic opioid overdose] is to use Narcan. It is available without a prescription.”


Q: What are the most obvious indicators of an overdose?


A: “Signs of fentanyl overdose vary case by case, but typically include loss of consciousness, slow or no breathing, discolored/cold skin [lips and nails, specifically], limp body, choking or gurgling sounds, and “pinpoint pupils.” If someone has used [fentanyl] and is experiencing any of these symptoms, use Narcan if available and call 911.”


Part of spreading awareness, Project 1 Life Youth Ambassadors post flyers at their school grounds explaining the dangers of fentanyl. (Courtesy of Project 1 Life) (Courtesy of Project 1 Life)


Q: What should kids know about the fentanyl epidemic?


A: “I would say, right now especially, it is never safe using prescription drugs. It is playing with fire. Right now cartels are specialized in creating fake percocet, xanax, oxy[codone] to look identical to [pharmaceutical drugs]…They contain a deadly amount of fentanyl because it is so cheap and potent.”


Q: What resources do kids have when they are addicted to prescription pills and need help getting off to prevent a potential fentanyl overdose?


A: “The short answer is not enough…There is a big lack in terms of resources and awareness in getting help.”


Q: Do American kids understand the gravity of the fentanyl epidemic?


A: “I would say no. Part of Project 1 Life and the awareness piece is that I interview a lot of people who have lost family members or close friends, and I would say one out of every five of them didn’t know about the fentanyl epidemic prior to their loved ones death. That is definitely not a certain number, but from what I’ve seen [is that] kids who are losing their lives have no idea [about the epidemic], and that is the greatest tragedy of all. Simple knowledge and awareness can help solve this problem…Given how many people [fentanyl] affects and kills, there is not even close to as much information among teens than there needs to be.”


Q: What is it about fentanyl that is so damaging in comparison to past drug epidemics?


A: “It’s just the potency of fentanyl and the little amounts that can cause an overdose, it varies person to person, but it is about two milligrams that is a potentially lethal dose, which is a few grains of salt. That little amount is so potent, and when this dosage isn’t regulated by the cartels producing counterfeit pills, you have a huge problem.”


Q: What progress have you seen in terms of fentanyl awareness?


A: “Right now Project 1 Life has ambassadors in around 25 states spreading their message through posters, classroom education, and social media. I’m seeing a lot of change.”