‘Forever 18’ Raises Awareness About Fentanyl Overdose, Poisoning

Kamari Esquerra

“My son, we don’t call it overdose, we call it poisoning. But he was poisoned by fentanyl on October 24, 2020,” said Jennifer Loza, Founder of Ronnie’s House for Hope. 

Steven Loza, a beloved son and brother, is one of more than 93,000 people who died of drug overdose in 2020.

A number that continues to increase each year. 

“It wreaks havoc on the family,” said Loza. “It wreaks havoc on the individual who’s struggling.”

Nearly two years later, Loza is still coping with the loss.

Holding back tears, she shares memories of her son, an 18-year-old, fresh out of high school with his whole life ahead of him, at the time of his death. 

“Oh my gosh, he was such a bright light. He would save anything and anyone. He would help anyone in need at any time,” said Loza. “He struggled with giving the same kind of love to himself.”

Loza says since his death, many have victimized her son, labeling him an ‘addict’.

But to Loza, Steven was a person, like thousands of others, who struggled with a serious illness. 

“People who have substance use disorder don’t want to have substance use disorder. It is a very vicious cycle,” said Loza. “But stigma keeps them from getting help and the lack of resources to get appropriate help when they need it.”

Turning her grief into hope, Loza is working to remove the stigma of overdose by educating the community, especially teenagers, about the opioid epidemic. 

“That’s how we eliminate the stigma. People look at addicts or someone who is struggling with drugs as less than. But every single person… my own children, I know who they are as individuals. They are good people with good hearts, but they struggled with a disease.”

Her nonprofit – Ronnie’s House For Hope – developed a new program focusing on fentanyl awareness. 

“We created a really powerful fentanyl awareness program that’s relatable to teens where they would learn about Steven but also learn about not putting their life in the hands of their friends. They would learn about the 9-1-1 Good Samaritan Law…” 

The goal is to increase awareness about the dangers of overdose and poisoning, reduce the demand for drugs, and as a result, save “precious” lives. 

“We have to reduce demand by educating… Knowledge is power and we are not going to jail our way… it’s not going to solve the problem,” said Loza. “These addicts that are struggling… they’re human beings. They have hopes, they have dreams, they have children, they have moms, so offer a little kindness. You just don’t know what they’re going through and how hard it really is.”


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