Texas teenager Sienna Vaughn dies of fentanyl as her parents and politicians battle wave of opioid overdoses
Doctors transported the two to hospital. The friend survived, but Sienna was pronounced dead of what was confirmed to be fentanyl poisoning.
“They didn’t know what they had,” Sienna’s mother told the TV station. “They didn’t know it was fentanyl.”
In a letter sent to parents Wednesday evening, Plano Independent School District Superintendent Theresa Williams confirmed that an unidentified student had recently died of a fentanyl overdose.
“We recently experienced the tragic loss of one of our beloved Plano ISD students to fatal fentanyl poisoning,” Williams said in the letter, according to the WFAA. “I can’t express the sadness and grief we all feel.”
The Vaughn family told the Washington Post that they were “crushed by the sudden loss of our wonderful daughter and sister.”
“She meant everything to us and we will never fully get over her,” the family said in a statement. “Our goal in making his story public is to honor his memory by trying to save the lives of other children.”
Sienna’s death is the latest fatal teenage fentanyl overdose to rock Texas in recent months, as parents, lawmakers and authorities respond with interviews, bills and even billboards featuring the faces of deceased young people.
In North Texas, there were nearly a dozen cases of students from the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District who overdosed on fentanyl between September and early March, NBC News reported. The cases, which include three deaths, resulted in charges against three people for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, according to a federal complaint last month.
Billboards were put up this week near Austin showing Cameron Stewart, a 19-year-old from Cedar Park, Texas, who died after taking a laced Valium in 2021. The billboard, which features a photo of a smiling Stewart, reads: “Fentanyl kills…just ask my mom!
Texas Republicans have responded to fentanyl deaths by calling for more education in schools and tougher sentences for those convicted of selling the opioid. State Rep. Terry Wilson (right) proposed a bill this month that requires school districts to provide at least 10 hours of instruction related to “fentanyl prevention and poisoning awareness by drugs” for students in grades six through 12. The bill is called “Tucker’s Law” for Tucker Roe, a 19-year-old from Leander, Texas, who, like Vaughn, died after buying and taking what he thought was a Percocet in 2021.
The Texas Senate unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday that would allow prosecutors to charge fentanyl distributors with murder. The bill sponsored by State Sen. Joan Huffman (R), which would classify fentanyl overdoses as “poisonings,” has found support from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and is expected to be signed into law. The state’s GOP approach of increasing criminal penalties has been criticized by experts, who accuse lawmakers of not doing enough to tackle drug addiction.
What’s happening in Texas mirrors the national rise in fentanyl overdoses among young people. Depending on a person’s size, tolerance and past use, a dose of fentanyl as low as 2 milligrams can be fatal, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
A December report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the median monthly number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths among people aged 10 to 19 increased by 182% from July to December 2019 compared to the same period. in 2021. Between July 2019 and December 2021, more than 2,200 teens fatally overdosed in the United States, according to the report — and fentanyl was implicated in 84% of those deaths.
Sienna’s family said their daughter was involved in cheerleading and Girl Scouting, and enjoyed shopping, going to concerts and playing with the family cats.
“She was just living her 16-year-old life,” her mother Stephanie Vaughn told KDFW.
On February 19, Sienna was eating snacks and having fun with her friend on what seemed like an ordinary Sunday, her mother told local media. But the mum realized something was wrong when her daughter didn’t answer after knocking on the door. Vaughn opened the door and realized there was danger, she said.
“Her friend was making this weird gurgling sound and I saw Sienna and she was so pale,” the mum recalled to the station, saying she had started performing CPR. “I immediately said, ‘Call 911, call 911.’”
The family wrote on their memorial page that although they didn’t find her until about an hour after she took the fentanyl, it was too late.
“Taking a prescription pill someone gave her was a mistake, but it should NOT have been a fatal mistake,” they wrote. “With fake prescription pills containing fentanyl in circulation, people don’t get a second chance.”
In Wednesday’s letter to Plano ISD parents, Williams urged families to talk to their children about the threats of drug use, especially fentanyl.
“It is crucial that students and those of us who care for them understand the risks involved and the devastating consequences that can come from experimenting with this drug and others, which come in various forms – from pills to vape solutions,” Williams wrote.
Since Sienna’s death, her family has raised more than $31,000 on GoFundMe to help raise awareness for the introduction of overdose drug Narcan into schools and to work with organizations focused on the fentanyl crisis. The Vaughn family stressed to the Post that Sienna’s story, along with so many other examples of young people dying from fentanyl overdoses, is important to share — no matter how painful it is for them.
“No family should go through this pain and no child should lose their future because of the trap of fake prescription fentanyl pills,” the family said. “Please talk to your children and let the world know about this poison.”