Hutchinson mother of man who died from overdose pushes for fentanyl test strips

After losing her son to synthetic fentanyl, Brandy Sheahan Harris said she wants to see change so that no other family has to endure what she's had to.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 7:30 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Nearly a year after the death of a brother and son, a Hutchinson family is advocating for a change they believe will save lives. Sebastain Sheahan was a source of strength for his mother, Brandy Sheahan Harris.

“Everybody needs that cheerleader, and mine’s gone now, and it’s hard, it’s really hard,” Harris said.

Last year, Sheahan died from an overdose of synthetic fentanyl. Earlier this month, his mother took his story to the Statehouse, advocating for a bill that includes decriminalizing fentanyl test strips. That legislation is in doubt. Last week, a Senate committee approved removing the test strips and other parts of the bill looking to address this issue without a clear explanation. Earlier this year, the bill passed in the House with unanimous support.

Harris’ oldest son is part of that growing statistic on lives lost to fentanyl. Sheahan died on April 15, 2022, at the age of 21. His death followed three years of sobriety.

“Sebastain didn’t get a chance to learn from his relapse because there was fentanyl,” Harris said. “He was just happy that got to be around her light.”

Harris said described Sheahan as her perfect son in his early childhood and that he put a lot of focus on family, especially his little sister, who was born with a chromosomal abnormality.

“He loves his brother, loves his brother, but his sister was his everything, and he helped me out with her so much,” said Harris.

She said when Sheahan was 13, his life was changed. A truck hit him as he rode his bike to football practice. A doctor prescribed him pain medication.

“Sebastain was still really good. I don’t know if he just pretended like it in front of me because I’m his mom and everything like that, but he was always really respectful and really took care of his sister,” Harris said.

After rehab and in recovery, she said, Sheahan’s life was going well.

“He had a great job, an amazing, amazing girlfriend and his pets. He had a reason to live,” Harris said. “He was in a really good place and we have no idea the reasoning behind his relapse.”

Harris said in the year since Sheahan’s death, she’s talked with others in recovery about the impact of a relapse.

“Everyone I’ve met since then has relapsed at one point in time. Whether it’s to test themselves because they think they’re fine or if it’s because they had a bad day or because of a sudden loss or something like that,” Harris said. “Everyone I’ve met since then has relapsed in one way or another.”

With the loss she experienced, Harris wants to keep other families from having to face what she and her family have been through.

“It affects everybody in the entire family. My whole family’s life has been completely uprooted by this. So it’s not just a mother. I don’t want somebody else’s little sister to be anxious, scared she’s going to lose everybody. I don’t want another brother to not have that confidant,” she said.

Harris said she wanted to share her son’s story with Kansas lawmakers, advocating for a bill to address fentanyl overdose deaths, including test strips, before it’s too late.

“It is affecting people who made one mistake, and we all know somebody who made one mistake, and we all made some sort of mistake when we were young,” Harris said.

She said access to FTS can help change someone’s behavior or use, and that can keep a mother, brother or sister from losing a loved one. That’s what she’s hoping the lawmakers opposed to the test strips understand.

Harris said, “This affects them, and when they know somebody that it directly affects, they will change their mind.”