In May, 2020, Charlie Ternan, 22, three weeks away from college graduation, bought what he thought was a Percocet for back pain from a dealer he connected with on Snapchat. Thirty minutes after ingestion, Charlie, 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, was dead from fentanyl poisoning.
The sale of fentapills–fake pills made of fentanyl–are on the rise in the United States and are almost exclusively sold via social media platforms like Snapchat and Tik Tok. Marketed as Percocet, Xanax, or other prescription drugs, the phenomenon has led to disturbing new statistics: overdoses are now the leading cause of preventable death among people ages 18 to 45, ahead of suicide, traffic accidents and gun violence, according to federal data.
In the wake of their son’s death, Charlie’s parents, Ed and Mary, decided to raise awareness for those at risk. Together, they started Song for Charlie, a family-run nonprofit charity dedicated to spreading the word about the dangers of fentapills.
Song for Charlie’s mission is to spread awareness by providing resources and, more recently, developing a peer-to-peer learning program. They partner with experts, educators, parents and other influencers to reach the most vulnerable group: young people between the ages 13-24. They enlisted Wondros to create a multichannel social media campaign and forge media and influencer partnerships to change the national conversation in order to help save lives.
Working closely with the Song for Charlie team, Wondros has been handling communications strategy, PR, and ongoing creative production for the organization. We created a messaging strategy, ad targeting strategy, and a social media campaign that has driven awareness of the organization and grown Song for Charlie’s audience.
We created a Spotlight Series of video interviews with experts, advocates, and others to shed light on various aspects of the issue and share powerful personal stories. These videos have been so popular that we’ve produced multiple spotlights per month, alongside a library of other custom, branded assets spanning video and graphic formats optimized for multiple social media platforms.
In addition to the social campaign, Wondros also designed and is currently piloting a peer-to-peer education program called Fentanyl Fight Club—named by students—in a sample of Los Angeles high schools. The Wondros Human-Centered Research and Design Team used a qualitative research process to understand the needs, goals, and behaviors of students, parents, teachers, and school administrators to inform the program’s shape. In addition, central to this process, was co-designing what the program could look like with students themselves. The program empowers youth “ambassadors” to share reliable facts with their peers. For this, we worked with Song for Charlie to design a custom student resource website. The program will add a powerful youth-led dimension to building a movement that complements our social campaign.
We’ve already seen great success with the launch of Fentanyl Fight Club. Just a few days after launch at one school, one of our key performance indicators—taking an online pledge to not take fake pills and to help others understand the dangers of doing so—saw an increase of over 60 pledges completed. This number continues to increase as the student group finds other opportunities, on-campus and off, to share information with their peers. We continue to provide coaching and guidance for school groups and measure progress and impact through surveys, interviews, and analytics to continuously improve the program, with a view toward scaling it to other schools in the future.
We anticipate a significant increase in awareness of the issue, and are currently measuring this with a before-and-after survey of the school community. In fact, one of our younger Wondros family members, teen activist Jasper Tronciale, has been making impressive moves against the fentanyl crisis. See the national attention he’s garnering for his work.
Since September 2021, we’ve measured major growth across Song for Charlie’s social media audiences. The campaigns and content we’ve created have also gone viral on TikTok, where Song for Charlie has received over a million likes. We’re proud to see our messages resonating with young people as well as their teachers and caregivers, and to have built a network of other advocacy groups and organizations with deep experience reaching young people and changing their behavior for the better. We’ve also drawn on our network to facilitate introductions to partners and supporters, including influencers, donors, media partners, and others, landing Song for Charlie and its key messaging points major opportunities to bring attention to this urgent issue.
On Instagram, Song for Charlie’s follower count increased by 21.3%, from 1,828 followers to 2,218; on Facebook, the follower count increased by 1,778.1%, from 256 followers to 4,808; on Twitter, the follower count increased by 115.4%, from 123 followers to 265; and on Snapchat, the subscriber count increased by 394.8%, from 5,981 subscribers to 29.6K.
If you are interested in getting involved with the movement, visit https://www.songforcharlie.org/how-to-get-involved. In the future, stay tuned for more information on how to become a program Ambassador or set up a Fentanyl Fight Club peer-to-peer program chapter at your school.