On a Thursday morning in October, Sandy Snodgrass was given the news that no parent should ever have to hear. Her son, Robert Bruce Snodgrass, was found dead. He had died from a fentanyl overdose.

Bruce was Sandy’s only child. When he was young, they lived in Southern California, exploring beaches, mountains and deserts so Bruce could do what he loved – be outside. When he was a teenager, they moved back to Alaska, where Sandy grew up. “Alaska was Bruce’s true home,” she said. But while a student at Service High School, Bruce started using drugs in earnest. After many difficult years, Bruce turned 18. He was repeatedly arrested and then broke his terms of release, adding charges and time to his cases. Eventually, when he was using substances, he ended up camping in the forests of Far North Bicentennial Park. He was homeless but with a home he could have gone to if he wasn’t using substances.

In summer 2021, Bruce said he wanted to get help. Sandy quickly secured a bed in a medical detox facility. He then transferred to the inpatient Chanlyut program, run by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. Bruce graduated, moved home with his mom and embarked on outpatient treatment. The treatment program gave him a mountain bike, and he found joy riding around Anchorage trails. His daily schedule revolved around intensive outpatient meetings and counseling.

Then came the day in October when Bruce left, saying he was going for a bike ride. “Be careful out there,” she told him. According to police, Bruce was found dead at 11:38 a.m. on October 28, 2021, in a grocery store parking lot. A dog walker noticed his body and called the police. The police officer who met Sandy at the store lot had come from notifying a different family about an overdose death.

Sandy’s son couldn’t be saved, but she is doing everything in her power to ensure this doesn’t happen to another family. While Bruce overdosed on fentanyl, Sandy does not think that he knew the drug he took was fentanyl. She believes there needs to be education about the lethality of all street drugs because of the potential that they could be contaminated by fentanyl. According to the CDC, the #1 cause of death in Americans who are 18-45 years old is fentanyl overdose. She wants to get this message out to young people so they can avoid the same fate that her son endured.