Mark Mantey, a Hayward summer resident and parishioner at St. Joseph’s Parish, has always had a passion for working with young people. He has shared his business expertise in senior sales leadership with Nestle as co-director of California State University-Fullerton’s Sales Leadership Center, but since the fall of 2022, Mantey is working to save young people’s lives.
Mantey’s family was originally from the Milwaukee area and vacationed in the Northwoods. In the 1980s, they moved to California. Mantey and his wife, Brenda, raised their son Matthew there but continued returning to northern Wisconsin for summer vacations.
After finally buying property on the Chippewa Flowage, the Manteys established their second home little by little and began getting more involved at St. Joseph’s as they spent more time in the area. Three years ago, he and his wife decided they should get to know other parishioners after Saturday evening Masses. What started out as a small social evolved into larger events, including a fall festival.
It was then that Mantey met Kim Dale, owner of the SylvanDale Barn, where the festival was held. In conversation, he learned that Dale had lost her daughter, Cassidy Joy Metropulos, to a fentanyl overdose in August 2019.
That encounter, together with a story Mantey saw on TV about a young California student, solidified his conviction to do something.
Charlie Ternan died of an accidental fentanyl poisoning in 2020 in southern California just weeks before his college graduation. He made an online purchase of what he thought was Percocet for lingering pain from a back surgery. He took one pill – which was actually illicit fentanyl – and died 30 minutes later, never knowing what was coming.
Ternan’s parents started “Song for Charlie,” a website and social media platform to educate on the dangers of pills like these.
Mantey took their lead and in October 2022 began communicating with Cassidy’s mother to pull together a similar campaign for northwestern Wisconsin. Through his research, Mantey discovered that Sawyer County is second in the state, only behind Milwaukee, for fentanyl overdoses.
Cassidy graduated from Hayward High School and, like many small-town teens, decided to move to the Twin Cities looking for work. Her friends were concerned about the scene she’d gotten caught up in, and her mother had bad feelings about her new boyfriend. Their efforts to bring Cassidy home and reground her were working, but one slip was all it took to take her life. The man who sold her the pills – fentanyl-laced heroin – was convicted to 30 years for reckless homicide.
In late April, a campaign was started because of the “serious issue in Sawyer County and northwest Wisconsin” illicit fentanyl is, Mantey said. Through the nonprofit Forever Joy, Inc. he and Dale have formed a partnership with Sawyer County Public Health, Sawyer County Law Enforcement and the school districts for Hayward, Lac Courte Oreilles and Winter. The efforts include a website, ForeverJoy.net, with statistics and resources and presentations that Mantey has given to multiple groups and audiences.
Mantey said when the Sawyer County sheriff was asked why they aren’t doing more to address this issue, he responded they can only do as much as there is cooperation from others involved.
“Most of the time no one says anything,” Mantey relayed and shared about another conviction from June in Sawyer County connected to a fentanyl overdose death in neighboring Washburn County. “Police need cooperation from the public for these cases to be prosecuted,” Mantey added.
In an August press release in the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce newsletter, drafted by Mantey, it stated that illicit fentanyl overdose deaths had reached epidemic levels in Wisconsin and Sawyer County. “While nationwide an estimated 110,000-120,000 persons are dying from overdoses annually, Sawyer County is the State of Wisconsin’s second-highest county for overdoses per capita, with only Milwaukee County recording higher numbers,” it read.
Mantey believes it is of the utmost importance to “shore up kids’ resilience” to what they are exposed to on social media and from a culture preying on their vulnerabilities. He understands how busy parents can be, especially in this economy, trying to make ends meet and in particular for single-parent households.
“But I don’t think there are too many parents that will disagree,” Mantey added, “that when that little child is born and placed in your arms, that is God’s greatest gift.” He added that the “enormous amount of love” parents start out with needs to be given due attention, especially as these children grow and are exposed to dangers of which parents often aren’t aware.
He said parents can talk to their children, but “the influence of phones in their private time … is like Satan in disguise on the other end of the line,” often falsely making young people feel understood or affirmed in moments of distress, which is normal during teenage and young adult developmental years.
Mantey called the partnership developed “phenomenal.” The group’s first official act was marching in the 2023 Musky Fest parade where Dale marched with a banner of her daughter and more than 700 pamphlets were handed out.
As they connected with Sawyer County school districts, they learned of more personal connections to fentanyl deaths. Mantey presented at teacher in-services before the school year started.
Mantey says his own youth isn’t so distant that he can’t remember what it was like to get pulled in different directions. Even without social media, there were negative influences, though the consequences weren’t quite the same. With synthetic opioids, the technology dealers use to mimic other “tamer” pills and the ease with which they can move and disguise the drugs makes them hard to track and easy to market.
The August press release included information about fentanyl being found in pill form but also marijuana, cocaine, meth and potentially vaping products. It shared how it is 60 percent more potent than heroin and 100 percent stronger than meth. Young people, who overwhelmingly do not know or understand about this lethal substance, are exposed as ordering pills is as easy as ordering pizza online.
Mantey noted that 50 percent of teens say fentanyl is dangerous, although they don’t understand how or why. “Do not be fooled by fentanyl – one pill can kill,” the ForeverJoy.net website states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have information showing that drug deaths have quadrupled in the past 20 years, primarily fueled by the 558-percent increase of fentanyl availability.
In Wisconsin, the drug is the No. 1 killer of residents in the state aged 24-54. Called a “silent killer,” overdose deaths connected to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, have increased 1,000 percent from 2015-2021, with more than 4,300 lives being lost.
In Sawyer County, nine deaths were reported each year in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The last two years, the county recorded 32 overdose calls per annum, with Narcan being administered 14 times in 2021 and 20 times in 2022.
Mantey commented that many parents who grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s remember “Just Say No to Drugs” campaigns but are not well-exposed to this new data – fentanyl wasn’t widely known until 2016, when it “exploded into this massive issue.”
More than 100,000 people are losing their lives to fentanyl overdoses each year, Mantey said, noting that all the lives lost during the two decades of the Vietnam War didn’t reach 60,000.
He believes drug use doesn’t get publicized much in smaller, rural communities because of the complications in dealing with it, so adults believe illegal drugs are mostly a problem in larger cities.
“Most people are not aware of how much drugs have changed,” he said, admitting he’d never imagined trying any kind of drug like meth or heroine because they’re so powerful. “Then you have something like fentanyl, which is six times stronger than heroine!” he exclaimed.
Mantey believes it is crucial that parents and grandparents, as well as other adult mentors – teachers, catechists, neighbors, etc. – need to take a step back and focus on our purpose here on earth.
“If we can get kids thinking about that,” Mantey said, “and putting their energy in to positive things that are really going to influence their life, and they can build upon through employment and hobbies – why do you need drugs?”
Mantey hopes to develop materials to help parents address the challenges they feel in starting and having these conversations with the young people in their lives, especially before they head off to larger cities and are exposed to broader influences in college.
“Parents need to feel comfortable talking with their kids,” Mantey said.
He continues to be dismayed by the naïve reactions of adults who believe because their children are growing up in rural communities, even attending Catholic schools, they’re not exposed to these realities.
“You can’t think that way,” he affirmed. It’s not “a matter of being afraid, but aware,” Mantey added.
He is making himself and Forever Joy, Inc. available to do presentations around northwestern Wisconsin when he returns to the Hayward area this spring.
As for communication tips that adults can use, Mantey recognized that any communication is better than none. Make young people aware that these dangers do exist in our communities, and help them by talking through what a potential “exit plan” might look like when they are in unsafe situations.
Mantey said Covid-19 set the stage for this fentanyl epidemic: “Trust in prescription drugs, talk about mental health issues and treatment gaps … the glamorization of drug use and the drugs pouring in over the open border.”
As they worked to put the campaign together, Mantey felt they were “truly guided by the Holy Spirit throughout the process. … While we are educating and building awareness on the dangers of these drugs, the other side of the coin is encouraging young people to make sound decisions, find their natural high and avoid the dangers of drugs.”
One of his goals is to encourage adults to speak to the youths in their lives, not just about the problems, but also the opportunities.
“For many, this is a challenge,” he acknowledged. “Ultimately, the one true source of strength to beat addiction or avoid it is through Jesus Christ, not cultural influences, social media or peer pressure.”
Mantey hopes this article can plant seeds for adults desiring to make a renewed connection with their children or young people in their circles of influence. He suggested visiting www.ForeverJoy.net, SongforCharlie.org and NaturalHigh.org for resources and ideas.
In his own life, faith has played a key role, and Mantey believes in the strength of spiritual leadership within faith communities. While he never had an intense conversion or reversion to religious practice, “sticking with it on and off through college” kept his Christian values alive. Having attended Catholic grade school, Mantey always kept Christ and the church as part of his life.
“Somewhere, somehow the Holy Spirit has been there” through his life’s ups and downs. Getting the word out about the dangers of fentanyl and empowering adults to successfully guide youths through these challenges is, “for the time being, my purpose in life.”
Mantey can be reached at (805) 455-3920 or .
Cassidy Joy Metropulos, 21, lost her life to fentanyl poisoning in 2019 in Sawyer County. Her story was key in motivating Mark Mantey to work with Metropulos’ mother in educating on the dangers of fentanyl use. (Submitted photo; ForeverJoy.net)
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