A message of hope amid personal loss: Glenwood Springs daughter, mother raise awareness about fentanyl danger

Ashley Adams and her mother, Cath, hold a photo of Emily Adams before the presentation about fentanyl at Roaring Fork High School. Emily died after an accidental overdose in 2020.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

A Glenwood Springs High School senior and her mother are sharing a very personal story this spring with students, parents and the broader community about the deadly dangers of fentanyl.

Ashley and Cath Adams lost their sister/daughter Emily to an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2020 after she had moved to Arizona and was working to help people in addiction recovery.

A decision to take what ended up being a fake pill for a toothache, which Emily had obtained from a friend thinking it was Percocet, turned fatal. She was 21.

“My daughter walked these same halls when she was a student, and probably had some of the same teachers as you,” Cath Adams said before a gathering of Roaring Fork High School juniors and seniors in Carbondale on April 20.

Emily attended Roaring Fork her freshman and sophomore years, before graduating from Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood.

“If you don’t think this can happen to you, it can. This isn’t a comfortable message. It isn’t cozy. It’s very real,” Cath Adams said.

Emily ended up ingesting enough fentanyl in that fake pill to kill three people. An autopsy found no other drugs in her system.

Ashley Adams speaks about losing her sister Emily to an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2020, during a presentation to students at Roaring Fork High School
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Ashley took the call from Emily’s roommate informing her that her sister had died. It was April 28, 2020. It was Ashley’s 16th birthday.

“My last memory of her was her head showing on a stainless steel table,” Ashley told the student gathering last week. “I asked her to wake up, but she didn’t wake up.”

For her high school capstone project last summer, Ashley organized an Overdose Awareness Day at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel to bring attention to the issue, inviting speakers and information booths from various organizations, and ending the day with an honor walk in memory of those lost.

She and her mother have since taken their message online and on the road with the founding of Aperture of Hope — Seeing the Light, an information campaign to warn of the dangers of fentanyl and its increasing presence in the illegal drug trade. The site also shares positive messages around not succumbing to bullying and other struggles that can lead to substance use.

Aperture of Hope Pledge

• Never take a random pill

• Spread the word about the dangers of experimenting and recreational drug use

• Find healthier alternatives to coping with pain, stress and anxiety

• Be available and supportive of those struggling with mental health and substance use

• Be Kind — “You Matter”

Unlike most drugs of choice, be it illegal or legal, there’s no choice for the unsuspecting victims who think they’re buying one thing but end up taking a drug laced with fentanyl, the Adamses emphasized in their presentation.

Drug enforcement officials and other awareness groups warn that the synthetic, highly lethal opioid has found its way into knock-off pain pills and other street drugs, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. There have even been reports of fentanyl contamination in black-market marijuana, likely a result of some of the same processing equipment being used by drug dealers.

The mother and daughter have shared their message to students at Glenwood Springs and Battle Mountain high schools and before smaller groups of students in health classes.

A community presentation is planned for 3 p.m. May 15 at the Basalt Regional Library, inviting parents, students and the general public.

Cath Adams holds a photo of her late daughter Emily along with Emily's basketball jersey while talking to Roaring Fork High School students about the dangers of fentanyl. Emily died of an accidental overdose in 2020.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Central to their message is to not trust any drug that isn’t prescribed by a doctor and comes from a pharmacy. When it comes to marijuana, which is legal in Colorado for those 21 and older, it’s best to buy from a legal marijuana dispensary and not on the black market, they said.

The message to students also comes during the time of year when various celebrations, and partying, often occur during prom and graduation and other events.

“My sister doesn’t get to come to my graduation next month,” Ashley Adams said. “It’s OK to say ‘no.’ You don’t have to be the cool person. Anything that someone gives you could be laced with fentanyl.”

The Adamses also share a video documentary during their presentations, “Dead on Arrival,” which tells the story of four parents who lost their children to accidental fentanyl overdoses. The documentary can be found on YouTube.

Student reactions to the presentations are often very impactful, Ashley said.

“We ask them to fill out note cards with ‘words of wisdom,’ and it’s interesting to see what they write,” she said.

Emily was wearing a bracelet when she died that said “You Matter,” which has also become central to their message. The note cards are placed into a backpack that belonged to Emily when she died.

“A lot of the students come up afterwards and say, ‘Thank you for doing this, I didn’t know much about it,'” Ashley said. “It really grabs their attention, and I see tears for a lot of the kids that we talk to.”

She said Emily had planned to return to Glenwood Springs to work with their mother in addiction recovery. Cath is an activities coordinator at a local recovery center.

“Her main goal was to come back here to Colorado and help people in recovery,” Ashley said.

Another key message is not to hesitate with someone who appears to be suffering from an overdose. Colorado’s 911 Good Samaritan Law protects people who are at a party and call to report a suspected overdose, even if they are underage.

“Don’t hesitate to call, even if you’re a minor under the influence; you will not get in trouble if you stay on the scene,” Ashley said.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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