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On National Fentanyl Awareness Day, Orange Park mother shares how the drug impacted her family

Derek Hatcher had a promising football career. However, his goals and aspirations were cut short. He died at the age of 24

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — There isn't a day Debbie Rizer doesn't think about her son, Derek Hatcher.

Her son was a star quarterback at Ridgeview High School. His talents eventually took him to the University of Arkansas. 

"Derek was my baby. He was my little boy. He was my everything. My world revolved around him," Rizer said.

The young man had aspirations to pay it forward. Rizer said Hatcher wanted to coach the next generation of athletes. Unfortunately, his dream was cut short six years ago.

Hatcher overdosed on fentanyl at the young age of 24. 

Rizer believes her son did not know he took fentanyl. Since her son's death, Rizer's world has not been the same. 

"Waking up knowing he's not here is a pain I can't even express," Rizer added.

RELATED: Laced & Lethal: Event educating teens about dangers of overdose happening Sunday

In 2020, statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showed 6,089 opioid-caused-deaths. 7,842 reported deaths were opioid related. In response to this national crisis, the Drug Enforcement Administration recognizes May 10 as "National Fentanyl Awareness Day"

The goal is to educate the public on how dangerous the drug can be. Jacksonville DEA agent Mike Dubet said fentanyl does not discriminate. 

"It's pretty much playing Russian Roulette with your body," Dubet said. 

It's a gamble that Rizer doesn't want anyone to take. She said families should look for the signs of drug use. That's why she created the Derek Hatcher Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises awareness of substance abuse and addiction.

"I had people tell me Derek was doing drugs and I didn't believe it because my son would never do drugs," Rizer said.  

Grief does not have a deadline, but to Rizer, talking about her son and sharing his story helps ease the pain. 

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