Last September, Ryan Christoff found his then 16-year-old daughter barely breathing in their home near Boulder, Colorado.
Little did he know at the time, but his daughter was suffering from an overdose. She had taken a half of a Percocet pill given to her by her then boyfriend not knowing that it was laced with Fentanyl – a synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain and is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
“I’m bored in my room,” said Sofia Christoff, who said she had found some “powder” substance. “I crushed it up, took a line. Felt kind of sparkly for two seconds and then I woke up in the hospital.”
Ryan Christoff said he had known that his daughter “smoked a little weed” occasionally, but had no idea that the sophomore had actually been secretly experimenting with a long list of drugs.
“Cocaine, Xanax, Ketamine once. Acid, Shrooms, Adderall,” said Sofia Christoff. “So just pills. Just like everything I could get my hands on.”
During that year, she was suspended from school and her grades fell.
“I felt stupid that I should have known,” said Ryan Christoff. “I just didn’t think she was doing that.”
Sergeant David Cohen of the Lafayette Colorado Police Department was in the vicinity when the frantic 9-1-1 call came in from Sofia Christoff’s father.
Cohen arrived on the scene in minutes as the 9-1-1 dispatcher and started chest compressions. He quickly administered Narcan to an unconscious and barely breating Sofia Christofff. Within seconds, she began gasping for air, according to Cohen. She was taken to the hospital, but was released only hours later.
Cohen said he used his training and experience to recognize the situation.
“I mean, I don’t know if it ever became clear to me until I administered Narcan, and it worked,” said Cohen, who said he also noticed “miscellaneous drug paraphernalia” in the bedroom.
On that day, Sofia Christoff survived. Others who have experienced Fentanyl-linked drug overdoses have not been as lucky.
“I get daily reports of suspected individuals who have passed away as a result of Fentanyl overdoses,” said Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen.
Pazen said bringing awareness to the issue is key.
“Folks think that this might be something else that they’re ingesting. So bringing awareness to this issue that that pill may not be Percocet. That pill may not be Xanax. That that pill may contain Fentanyl and potentially could be deadly is critical.”
Deaths linked to synthetic opioids like Fentanyl have nearly doubled over the past two years, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Additional CDC data revealed that of the more than 100,000 people who died from drug overdoses in a 12 month period ending in October 2021, nearly two-thirds of those deaths are linked to synthetic opioids like Fentanyl.
Fentanyl is cheap to produce and extremely potent, so it is sometimes mixed into other illicit drugs heroin, meth and cocaine and other pain pills like Percocet, Xanax, Vicodin and Oxycontin and can create a lethal combination, according to Pazen.
“It’s so cheap, it’s so easy to move, it’s so addictive for the end user,” Pazen said. “We are going to need everybody coming together as a country, as a state, federal, state, local law enforcement.”
In March, Colorado’s House of Representatives introduced a bill to enact stiffer criminal penalties on those involved with the sale and distribution of Fentanyl.
For Sofia Christoff, she said that buying drugs is as easy as sending the right emoji to a “plug,” a drug dealer who often finds customers on apps like Snapchat.
“I’m looking for a little plug emoji or like a fire emoji or you’re just whatever emoji the normal dealers have,” said Christoff.
“If you know where to go, it’s really easy,” she added.
The use of emojis to connect with drug dealers is not unique to Colorado, but now so common across the country that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency released a cheat sheet for parents and guardians to raise awareness of the emojis commonly used to buy drugs on social media.
“I cannot emphasize enough how deadly this drug is to human life, especially to unsuspecting youth in our community,” said Tatum King, a Homeland Security investigator. “These pills are widely available and often sold for dollars apiece on social media.”
On April 1, Snapchat issued a statement that detailed their efforts to flush out drug-related content and announced steps to curb illegal activity, saying they have “zero tolerance” for the promotion of illegal drugs on its platform.
Sofia Christoff said she carries the weight of her near-death experience everyday.
“’I’m the one that came back like, why me? So I’m just trying to have the mindset that I’m here, and I was a lucky one, and I gotta make it worth it,” said Christoff.
Sofia Christoff is now enjoying her junior year of high school and said she’s looking forward to being back on the field with her softball team next season. Her father is now on a mission to educate other teens and parents on the dangers of drug use and carries Narcan wherever he goes.
“I would want people to see that it can happen to even someone like Sofia, to even their daughter, to even their son,” he said. “Even [to] people you think you know it is the least likely to happen to, it can happen.”
Last month, Ryan Christoff and his now 17-year-old daughter visited the Lafayette Police Department to meet Sergeant David Cohen again, six months after his quick actions saved a life. After both giving him giant hugs of gratitude, Ryan Christoff gave the officer a framed picture of his daughter saying, “that’s her celebrating her birthday which she was only able to experience because of you.”