PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WROC) — One Pittsford teen is speaking out after tragedy struck her family just before Thanksgiving when her older sister died due to an accidental fentanyl overdose.
Paige Gibbons sadly passed away Sunday, November 20. Her younger sister, Brooke, describes Paige as her best friend, and as someone who wanted to do good for the world.
She’s now on a mission to keep her sister’s spirit alive and spread awareness about an issue which affects so many others.
“There’s nothing I could have really done to stop it from happening, and there’s nothing that really anybody else could have done because no one knew that it was fentanyl,” Brooke said.
Paige died a few days after turning 19, just before Thanksgiving. Brooke described what happened that day with vivid memory:
“On Sunday the 20th I heard a lot of noise downstairs and there was like screaming, so I thought that someone was hurt. And then I like checked the Ring camera first and I saw there was police out the door, so I got out of my room, and I looked down at the stairs and I just heard that my sister overdosed. That’s all I heard.”
“So, I went back in my room and later I asked my mom, ‘Are we going to go visit my sister in the hospital?’ And she was really confused by that. So, then I found out she had passed away from a fentanyl overdose.”
Paige had been involved in sports during high school and volunteer work, Brooke said. She also inspired Brooke to take up cheerleading, something which has become a large part of her life. The ninth-grader recalled processing all that happened that night.
“I was just crushed and I didn’t know exactly how to feel; like I’d get overwhelming sadness, then I’d get frustration that it happened and then suddenly I would just not feel anything at all, so I feel like it’s been a cycle of denial, frustration, just complete depression so I think there’s just been a little mix of everything going on,” Brooke bravely shared.
According to the Monroe County Heroin Task Force, there were nine fatal overdoses in the month of November, compared to the 6 fatal incidents from November 2021.
“We have known for years that it’s underreported,” said Deputy Michael Favata with the Monroe County Heroin Task Force.
Deputy Favata told News 8 that annual trends indicating the fentanyl epidemic is slowing down are primarily driven by the rollout of Narcan (also known as Naloxone), a portable medicine which can reverse the effects of an overdose. However, there’s a lot more to unraveling the numbers; certain factors such as location of response, responding agency, (police, ambulance, private citizen, etc.), or even acceptance of treatment.
“Just because it comes in as an overdose, and we’ve looked into those, doesn’t mean it actually is one. It could have been just a medical call; somebody who went into diabetic shock, had some other type of medical condition…and other times it comes in as a routine medical and it is an overdose,” Favata said.
He explained that if MCSO gets sent to a medical call, but the patient is already in the ambulance, or has simply left the scene, it would not necessarily be recorded as an overdose response.
“I’m pretty confident they are going to come up with a really good system that better reflects the issue, but we’re prolly missing anywhere I would say 100+ a month that are not reported,” he explained, describing instances where a person may not end up even calling for an emergency response.
The Deputy notes the inconsistencies in data collecting are known, saying there are recent discussions are taking place within the county to create a more comprehensive approach the understanding the data, and therefore showcase a better representation of the true extent of the epidemic.
“That’s what we’re working on now. We actually for the last three months with the Health Department, Rochester Fire Department, and AMR are trying to track these better,” Deputy Favata added.
In 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) updated a Public Safety Warning, saying lab testing revealed six out of ten fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills now contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl (just two milligrams of fentanyl, the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose).
In the meantime, Brooke is hoping that by sharing Paige’s story, she can help to shine a light on an issue impacting so many others.
“I feel like not only just thinking about the sad stuff but also thinking about what can I do every day to make her proud? And what can I do to spread awareness, and what can other people do to spread awareness?”
Monroe County launched a 24/7 addiction hotline, called IMPACT, with professionals on standby for calls to 585-753-5300.