(NEW YORK) — Family members of a former NHL player who had cocaine and fentanyl in his system when he died are now speaking out to warn people about the risks of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.
Jimmy Hayes, a 31-year-old father of two who played seven seasons in the NHL, was found dead at his home near Boston on Aug. 23.
His death was ruled accidental.
“I hope getting Jimmy’s story out there can save someone’s life,” Hayes’ father, Kevin, told the Boston Globe. “If this can save someone from the pain, great. It’s just so sad. I pride myself on being pretty mentally strong. I’m a street guy. But there’s just no formula for this. You have a beautiful, all-American boy who made a terrible mistake and it cost him his life.”
Hayes’ wife, Kristen, told the Boston Globe she was “completely shocked” that her husband’s death was drug-related, telling the newspaper, “I was so certain that it had nothing to do with drugs. I really thought it was a heart attack or anything that wasn’t that [drugs].”
Hayes was a Boston native who played over 300 games in the NHL for four different teams. His dad Kevin told the Boston Globe that Hayes came to him over a year ago and told him he was “hooked” on pain pills, and later sought treatment.
“So he gets help and everything was on the path to recovery, I thought,” said Kevin. “But this [expletive] is so powerful.”
Hayes is the latest well-known celebrity to die with fentanyl in his system.
The singer Prince fatally overdosed on fentanyl in 2016.
“The Wire” actor Michael K. Williams died in September of a drug overdose which included fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin and cocaine.
In February, Dr. Laura Berman, a nationally known relationship and sex expert, shared a warning for parents when her 16-year-old son died after taking what she described as fentanyl-laced Xanax from a person he allegedly met on Snapchat.
What to know about the dangers of illicitly manufactured fentanyl
In the United States, illicitly manufactured fentanyl is the primary driver of the significant increases in drug overdose deaths in recent years. More than 93,000 people died of a drug overdose last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In September, the country’s top law enforcement officials announced the seizure of more than 1.8 million counterfeit pills during a coordinated series of law enforcement raids throughout the country since early August.
The pills are often made to resemble real prescription opioid medication like Oxycontin, Vicodin and Xanax or stimulants like Adderall, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Most are made in Mexico, with China supplying the chemicals.
“We cannot stress enough the danger of these counterfeit pills,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said at a Sept. 30 press conference. “We’re seeing these pills being illegally sold in every state in the United States. They are cheap, they are widely available, they can be purchased online and on social media — so through people’s phones, and they’re extremely dangerous.”
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is used frequently in medical settings. Developed for the pain management treatment of cancer patients, it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the DEA.
“It is a very good and effective medicine at relieving pain in appropriate quantities managed by anesthesia,” said Dr. Kimberly Sue, medical director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition and an addiction specialist at Yale University. “What we’re seeing in the opioid overdose deaths in this country is related to fentanyl that is obtained outside of the context of medical prescriptions, usually on the street.”
In the case of an overdose death, fentanyl can cause a person to stop breathing, according to Sue.
Sue said that when people take medications that are not prescribed to them, they are playing “Russian roulette,” given the prevalence of illicitly manufactured fentanyl on the streets today.
“In the case of a pill that you buy off the street, people should assume there is fentanyl present even if it is labeled as some other medication,” she said. “I’ve taken care of many patients who think they’re buying an oxycodone or heroin and there’s nothing in it. It’s just fentanyl.”
Sue stressed that there are now resources like fentanyl test strips, which identify the presence of fentanyl in unregulated drugs, and naloxone, a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, that can help save people’s lives.
“These are really tragic deaths because they are preventable,” said Sue. “I tell my patients, ‘You have to use all these strategies to try to stay alive and keep your friends alive."”
If you or someone you love is in need of help, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit HERE to reach SAMHSA’s 24-hour helpline that offers free, confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention and recovery.
ABC News’ Luke Barr, Quinn Owen and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.
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