Parents & PSM to the press: these deaths are poisonings

In May, New Orleans-based WWL TV covered the death of Hailey Deickman, a high school senior who was killed by a fake prescription pill made with fentanyl just days before her graduation.

Getting news out about these pills is incredibly important and PSM wants to thank WWL TV for covering this story. However, we and a group of parents wrote the station to point out the danger of describing these deaths as overdoses rather than poisoning.

Read the letter below, and learn more about our campaign to tell a clearer story here.

Click on the blue bird to tweet this message encouraging the reporters to describe these deaths as poisonings.

.@erikaferrandotv @megfarriswwl @kesparros Thank you for covering the fentanyl poisoning death of Hailey Deickman. I encourage you to describe future deaths from fake pills as "poisonings" not "overdoses".

Meg Farris, Medical Reporter
Erika Ferrando, Reporter
Keith Esparros, News Director
1024 N Rampart St
New Orleans, LA 70116


July 21, 2021


Dear Ms. Ferrando, Ms. Farris and Mr. Esparros:

We write today alongside families of children poisoned by fake pills made with fentanyl. We read your articles and on-air segments about Hailey Deickman’s death with hope, and are grateful you are using them to spread awareness of the danger of counterfeit pills.

Belle Chasse High School senior dies of overdose days before graduation (Meg Farris, 5/19/21)

Belle Chasse High School senior overdose highlights national crisis: 1 in 4 fake pills contains lethal Fentanyl (Erika Ferrando, 5/20/21)

On-Air segment

ON-AIR: Arrest made in Belle Chasse overdose death (WWL staff, Meg Farris, 5/21/2021)


While we appreciate that reporters don’t always write their own headlines, the use of the word overdose in news coverage of fake pills deaths is problematic: It does not accurately describe what killed Ms. Deickman.

The half a Percocet pill that she consumed would not have killed her if it had been genuine Percocet. She did not overdose on Percocet, and since she didn’t know she was taking fentanyl, she did not overdose on that either. She was poisoned.

The public health consequence of misdescribing these deaths as overdoses instead of poisonings is that many families will ignore the warning, because they think “overdoses” only happen to families with addicts.

The families we work with have told us they were unaware of the danger of fake pills. Law enforcement and public health officials have been warning about this danger for five years, but it has been misdescribed as a problem related to addiction, and many don’t understand it can affect anyone.

We have asked the Associated Press Stylebook to consider changing their guidelines about how they cover this issue (attached) and we ask you to make a commitment to describing these deaths as poisonings rather than overdoses.

It would help a great deal if you could help educate other reporters about the difference between overdose and poisoning simply by tweeting your support of our proposal to the AP’s Stylebook at @apstylebook. You can do that at

Thank you for your coverage of these deaths, your public health warnings, and for your consideration of this matter.


Shabbir Imber Safdar, Executive Director
The Partnership for Safe Medicines

Matt Capelouto
Father of Alexandra Capelouto, 20
Murdered by a drug dealer who deceptively sold her a counterfeit oxycodone pill made of fentanyl, 2019

Laura Didier
Mother of Zach Didier, 17
Murdered by a fentanyl-based fake Percocet, 2020

Jennifer Epstein
Mother of Caley Epstein, 18
Murdered by a fentanyl-based fake Oxy, 2020

Amy Neville
Mother of Alexander Neville, 14
Murdered by a fentanyl-based fake oxycodone, 2020

Jaime Puerta
Father of Daniel Joseph Puerta-Johnson, 16
Murdered by counterfeit blue M30 oxycodone pill, 2020

Mary Ternan
Mother of Charlie Ternan, 22
Murdered by a fentanyl-based fake Percocet, 2020

Andrea Thomas
Mother of Ashley Romero, 32
Murdered by a fentanyl-based fake oxycodone pill, 2018

Dr. Lisa A. Hicks
Mother of Joseph E. Patterson, 23
Murdered by fentanyl-based fake oxycodone pill, 2015