NY family loses daughter to fentanyl overdose after taking 1 pill

Parents say Paige Gibbons, 19, died after taking 1 pill she thought was Percocet

Amid the unprecedented prevalence of fentanyl masquerading as other substances, taking just one unprescribed pill one time can kill you. This is a reality that hits close to home for one New York family that lost their daughter in 2022. 

Paige Gibbons, a 19-year-old college freshman at Hobart and William Smith with dreams of becoming a doctor, thought she was taking a Percocet with her friends on Nov. 20 that year.

"She was at a friend's house, the parents were home, she and her friend were going to take a Percocet, which she thought was a Percocet," said her father, David Gibbons of Pittsford, New York. "Unbeknownst to them it was not a Percocet, it was 100% fentanyl."


Paige Gibbons

Paige Gibbons of Pittsford, New York, 19, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose on Nov. 20, 2022. (Provided )

At 1:05 p.m. that day, David and his wife, Kate, would see their lives change forever after a sheriff's deputy knocked on their door to tell them their daughter had overdosed. 

"It was the loudest yell I'd heard in my life. I thought it was an intruder or something, because why was she screaming?" David said of his wife's reaction to the unthinkable news.

Paige was with two friends when she overdosed. One had purchased the pills over social media.

One of her friends almost died, David said in an interview with New York's Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS). The other, who elected not to take the pill, "witnessed one of the worst things a teenager could witness in their lives," David said. 


Kate and David Gibbons

Gibbons' parents, David and Kate, are telling their story to spread awareness that just one nonprescribed pill can be laced with deadly fentanyl. (Provided)

"She trusted, maybe, her friend or her friend trusted somebody that they knew," said Paige's mother, Kate. "We just thought of her as a little naive in that respect. Unfortunately, it cost her her life."

placeholderPaige's death came as a complete surprise to her parents; they never believed her to be a troublemaker or a drug user, a belief that was corroborated by their later conversations with her friends.

"One mistake was obviously Paige's worst mistake in her whole life," David said. "We don't want her to be judged for the worst mistake she made."

"It's caused havoc in our life," David said. "The milestones I was hoping to have – a first grand-baby, going to a wedding, her graduating from college, her helping other people – none of these things are going to happen with Paige."


Gibbons family

David and Kate Gibbons said that their daughter was not a regular drug user, but one pill that she thought was Percocet killed her. (Provided)

Paige's parents said she wanted to become a doctor and "had her sights set high for doing something good in the world." 

Although she died young, she left a mark at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Rochester, New York. There, the teen taught her classmates CPR for women. Her school only had male-bodied mannequins, her parents recalled, so she used her own money to get female models for her classmates to practice on.

With Paige's aspirations cut short, her parents said they are sharing her story so that she can help others even in death and to potentially save another family the heartache they've endured.

"You take a pill, and you have a potential of dying that night."

Their story is among several that will air as part of "Addiction: The Next Step," a 30-minute film made by OASAS to educate New York residents about the growing problem.

"I can't believe that we still hear people, you know, having this same exact situation," Kate said. "I want to shout it from the mountaintops and make sure that everyone knows: Expect that it will happen to you; expect that you will die if you try this."

"Think about this when you decide if you're going to take a pill or do some drug that's been presented to you. Do you want to see your mom's face mourning you?"

"It doesn't discriminate," David said. "Socioeconomically, race, religion. You take a pill, and you have a potential of dying that night."

Fentanyl is more than 50 times more potent than heroin, and 6,300 New Yorkers died of fentanyl overdoses in 2023. These overdoses are steadily climbing: 74,702 Americans died of fentanyl overdoses in 2023, about 500 more than the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration seized a record 79.5 million fentanyl pills in 2023, far exceeding the 58 million seized in 2022. Laboratory testing indicated that seven out of every 10 pills seized by the agency contained a lethal dose of fentanyl, according to the agency. 

Pills that could contain fentanyl aren't just limited to opioids. According to the DEA, high school and college students purchasing "study drugs" like Adderall over the dark web or on social media have also fallen victim to the substance. 

Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, the coordinator of OASAS, said fewer teens than ever are abusing drugs, but teens dying of overdoses are on the rise due to the lethality and growing prevalence of fentanyl. 

"We know with the internet and social media that kids can get what they think are real pills, but who knows where they're made or where they're coming from and what's in them?" she said. "Fentanyl is finding its way into these pills and that can be deadly."

She also said that xylazine, also known as "tranq," has led to an increasing number of overdose deaths in teens.

Testing strips for fentanyl and xylazine, as well as Naloxone – a lifesaving drug that can reverse opiod overdoses – are available to New Yorkers for free at oasas.ny.gov. Other states, like Ohio and California, also have initiatives to give free testing strips and Naloxone to residents.

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