After two teenage boys died from an overdose of fentanyl last November in Prescott Valley, Ariz., the Prescott News Network decided that enough was enough and decided to launch the “Stop Fentanyl Now” campaign. The Prescott News Network publishes 10 newspapers including the Prescott Daily Courier, Prescott Valley Tribune and Chino Valley Review.
According to Tim Wiederaenders, senior news editor for Prescott News Network, the boys, who were well-known athletes in the community, took what they believed was pure Percocet, but the pills were actually laced with fentanyl.
“We’ve now seen at least three people who’ve died in our community because of fentanyl,” Wiederaenders said. “How many more people need to die before they make this a deterrent?”
So, in November, the Daily Courier ran a community call to action on its front page featuring a large black box that read “Our Children Are Dying” in large letters. The newsroom was inspired by the IndyStar’s 2015 front page design about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which also included large black box and the words “Fix This Now” in large text.
“We’ve basically made the promise that if you’re a dealer and you’re going to sell this kind of stuff to our kids and you get caught, we’re going to promise you a spot on our front page,” Wiederaenders explained.
The campaign aims to not simply report the facts, but to tackle all angles of the crisis and support a call for legislation. In addition, parent company of the Daily Courier, Western News & Info, Inc, donated $10,000 to Yavapai Silent Witness, an organization that helps take dealers and their drugs off the street.
Wiederaenders said they have published 30 stories related to the campaign so far, keeping readers up to the date on the issue as well as providing detailed information on suspected fentanyl dealers, including printing their mugshots in the newspaper.
Max Efrein, a Daily Courier reporter actively involved in the campaign, has written a majority of the stories.
“I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from members of the public as well as victims, families and people who have some sort of stake in the matter that have thanked us for being not only reactive, but proactive because there have already been a number of deaths,” he said. “We’ve also noticed there has been somewhat of a slow down within the drug distribution in our area.”
The Daily Courier has no specific end date for the campaign, but it is clear that it will go on for as long as it takes in order to see change.