In fight against youth drug abuse, Siegels enlist teen social media influencers

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Steve Marcus

Jackie Siegel, center, reacts as she records a video with social media influencers in the Tuscany Suite at the Westgate Wednesday, July 29, 2020. From left: Dreko Romero, Cole Bayo, Siegel, Keanni Mendez, Jamel Warren and Ahiellla Borgan. The Victoria Siegel Foundation teamed up with social media influencers and Sinclair Broadcast Group to promote “Social Media for Good,” an effort to connect young people with resources to help them overcome opioid addiction.

Sat, Aug 1, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Jackie Siegel recognizes that her dream of children never again experimenting with drugs, much less dying from them, will never come to fruition. It doesn’t mean that her Las Vegas foundation isn’t trying. 

In times of a global pandemic, when most news coverage is focused on COVID-19, the work of the Victoria Siegel Foundation, named after her late daughter, hasn’t been interrupted.

“They forgot there’s an actual opioid and drug epidemic ... and that it’s gotten worse,” Siegel said. “And that’s not the headline in the news.” 

To continue to amplify the message that “it’s cool to be drug-free and it’s cool to say no to drugs,” the foundation has recruited a group of young social media influencers, Siegel said.

While consumers of traditional media don’t recognize names like Corey Campbell or Cat Conley, hundreds of thousands of their followers on outlets, such as Instagram or TikTok know them as @catconleyy or @imcoreycampbell.

"And they listen to them. They’re teaching them to be high on life,” Siegel said.

A group of young influencers were in Las Vegas this week.

They toured the Las Vegas Valley and experienced its glamour, from a visit to the mountains to a plunge from the Skyjump at the Strat. They were guests at the Versailles Penthouse at the Westgate, which is owned by the Siegel family, and hosted a Zoom meeting at the Tuscany Sky Villa.

Throughout, the teens shared anti-drug messages with their massive audiences. They will continue to publish weekly videos. It was a “win-win,” Siegel said.

“We speak as much as we can, but I really think that teens listen to teens, kids listen to kids, they listen to their peers,” said Siegel, who at one point during Wednesday’s panel was seen recording a TikTok video with the teens. 

She says she wishes a program like the Victoria Siegel Foundation would’ve been around when her daughter was struggling with drug abuse. Victoria died at age 18 from an overdose in 2015.

With 71,000 people killed from a drug overdose in 2019, the U.S. set a new record. The Southern Nevada Health District this week reported that fentanyl had killed at least 63 people so far in 2020, one fewer case than all of 2019 combined. 

Siegel said learning about the grim stat “really touched my heart.”

Most U.S. deaths are attributed to opioids, with the powerful opioid fentanyl accounting for about half of the total deaths, according to the Associated Press. Experts worry the pandemic will only exacerbate the problem as “despair, anxiety and rootlessness” leads to an increase of drug use. 

Siegel described it as “cabin fever,” with people becoming increasingly depressed as they’re limited on what they can do outside their homes.

They use drugs as an “escape,” she added.

The partnership between the Siegels and the teenage influencers is just one of many. They’ve teamed up with agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration in education programs, and they were instrumental in the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that aims to outfit all first responders with naloxone, the antidote to reverse an opioid overdose. 

They’ve also recently launched their Victory Clubs, which reward students for staying off drugs. They hope the program spreads nationwide within three years. The Clark County School District became an official partner on June 25.

The Siegels launched the foundation in honor of their daughter soon after her death. Jackie Siegel says her work has “made her a stronger person,” more energetic, and better apt to cope with her loss.

The thought of saving someone’s life has given her a “new sense of purpose,” she said.

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