CHANDLER, AZ — Back to school is an exciting time but for parents it can also be unnerving, not knowing who or what their kids may come in contact with. Now a Valley couple is sharing their personal mission to keep students safe after their own devastating loss.
Daniel Mahan was a varsity football star for Chandler High School, well-known for his athleticism and his heart.
"He was one of my best friends," said Annette Mahan, Daniel's mom. "He was a kind soul."
"He was kind of the spark in our house," said Terry Mahan, Daniel's dad.
Their son also battled an opioid addiction. He tried one pill at a party and got hooked, but went to rehab and thought he had it beat.
"He told Annette right before he went to bed, 'my kids are never going to be so lucky to have a mother like you,'" said Terry Mahan. "I found him in the morning... in his bed."
Daniel died from a fentanyl overdose in January, two years after that first pill. He was just a few days shy of his 22nd birthday.
"I want a picture to fall off the wall, show me you're here, show me something," said Terry Mahan. "But it just doesn't happen."
The deadly drug is claiming lives across the country and many users do not even know they are taking it.
"I know my son and that is true, we knew him," said Annette Mahan. "What we didn't know was drug addiction."
Shane Watson is a prevention specialist for notMYkid.
"What we're aiming to do is to be able to prevent unhealthy behaviors by pre-teens because it is easier to do that than to intervene once they've started down that path," Watson said.
The non-profit focuses on six of the biggest challenges kids and families face. They include substance abuse, bullying, unhealthy relationships, eating disorders, depression or self-injury and internet safety.
"I am meeting amazing, talented, brilliant, loving kids from great families who are under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress and that is why a lot of them turn to drugs or alcohol for the first time," said Watson.
He says it is crucial that parents communicate and keep up with ongoing trends, especially during the school year.
"Set that standard of communication before they go back. Educate your kids on the real dangers that are involved with drugs and alcohol and make it clear to them that you are available any time they need you to listen," said Watson.
Meantime, the Mahans hope people will listen to their story as they now share it with students at schools both in and out of state.
"It's a mission," said Terry Mahan. "I'll say it, I'm pissed off that he's gone and so I can't sit here and let that happen to somebody."
Outreach and education cannot bring Daniel back, but this family believes it can make a difference.
"We're fighters and we may not win this one but we're going to go down swinging," said Terry Mahan.