Patriots CB lost a friend to fentanyl overdose. Now, he's trying to spotlight the crisis.

The bright yellow cleats New England Patriots cornerback Myles Bryant wears this weekend are sure to grab people’s attention.

So must the message behind them.

Bryant’s cleats spotlight this country’s fentanyl crisis, specifically the growing number of pills laced with the drug and the deaths occurring because of them. Deaths like that of Bryant’s childhood friend Charlie Ternan, who died in May 2020 after taking what turned out to be a counterfeit Percocet for pain that had lingered after back surgery.

“When you get people like Myles Bryant stepping up and saying, 'I’m OK talking about this heavy topic,’ it’s worth its weight in gold toward making it OK for kids to approach their parents and parents to talk to their kids,” Ed Ternan, Charlie’s father, told USA TODAY Sports.

“This is priceless. Absolutely priceless.”

After their son died, Ed and Mary Ternan started Song for Charlie, a non-profit dedicated to informing young people and their parents about the proliferation of “fentapills” and the unique danger they pose. In addition to facts about fentanyl — it’s involved in 79% of Gen Z drug-related deaths — Song for Charlie’s website features “The New Drug Talk for Families,” with resources and advice to help parents and kids have realistic conversations about counterfeit pills.

Warning kids that drugs could take them down a “bad path” is no longer enough, Ed Ternan said, because fentanyl has erased that path.

It doesn’t take weeks or months or years for someone to become addicted and have their lives ruined by drugs now. One pill, even the very first one you take, can kill you.

It’s not only that fentanyl can be lethal. It’s that the amount of fentanyl can vary from pill to pill. It’s that there’s no way to tell a real pill — Xanax, Percocet, Oxycodone, Valium — from a counterfeit one, and no test to identify if a drug contains fentanyl. It’s that the people selling it might not even realize they’re trafficking fentanyl-laced pills.

“The landscape is less like a path and more like a minefield,” Ternan said. “People are dying very early on, and you don’t have an opportunity to intervene. That’s what’s so important. Parents need to be proactive about having those conversations because there might not be early warning signs like there were.

“They think they’re taking (these pills) in a recommended amount. 'If I take one Xanax and it’s a real Xanax, I’m not going to overdose.’ But if it’s counterfeit Xanax, all bets are off.”

Compounding the fentanyl crisis is the mental health crisis among young people.

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In the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, more than 29% of high school students reported their mental health was “most of the time or always not good,” with that number rising with each year in school. While the total number of ER visits by children and young adults remained relatively stable between 2011 and 2020, the proportion of those visits for mental health reasons doubled, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. That includes a five-fold increase in the proportion of suicide-related visits.

One of the ways children and young adults are coping is self-medicating, Ternan said. What they don’t realize is that the pills they think will help them feel better might kill them instead.

“When you add the suicide rate and kids dying because they’re self-medicating in this toxic drug landscape … you now have 25-year-olds sitting around the table talking about the four, five, eight friends they’ve lost. It’s really tragic,” Ternan said, his voice thick.

“We really hope that this generation, with leaders like Myles, will take on this issue and get involved in solving it.”

Bryant is promoting Song for Charlie as part of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative, which allows players to bring attention to the causes and concerns that matter most to them by personalizing their cleats. Bryant knew the Ternans had started a foundation in Charlie’s honor and asked if he could showcase it on his cleats for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Bryant’s cleats will have “Song for Charlie” on the outside and “Real Talk About Fake Pills” on the instep.

"I'm just trying to raise awareness and also bring light to Charlie,” Bryant told the Patriots website. “He was a really loving guy, compassionate, kind. Everybody in our friend group loved him, so I'm just trying to honor him and bring light to this epidemic."

The Ternans are touched by Bryant’s gesture. Hopeful, too.

The Ternans have devoted their lives to spreading the word about Song for Charlie and the dangers of fentanyl, and have had some successes. They'll give a presentation to medical and training staffs at Major League Baseball's winter meetings next week.

Nothing commands a bigger spotlight in this country than the NFL, however, and a glimpse of Bryant’s cleats or mention of Song for Charlie could educate millions of people.

And, ultimately, save lives.

“When young people learn about this issue, they’re much less likely to use prescription meds,” Ternan said. “We have to continue to educate them that what’s in these pills is so potent and the dosing so inconsistent, you cannot take these pills over any length of time without getting the dose wrong and dying.

“If we can normalize the conversation, I think that would really go a long way.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Myles Bryant of Patriots could save lives through message on cleats