Fentanyl-laced pill kills Waunakee 18-year-old, mother cries out for awareness and change

Michelle Kullmann is committed to bringing attention to the alarming increase in availability and lethality of fentanyl-laced pills.
Published: Jan. 16, 2022 at 8:00 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Waunakee mother is furious for change, after her 18-year-old son died two months ago from an accidental fentanyl overdose.

Michelle Kullmann is committed to bringing attention to the alarming increase in availability and lethality of fentanyl-laced pills. She said her son, Cade Reddington, was always up for a new adventure. “Cade was a kid that was just so full of life and energy and excitement, and he just loved living life to the fullest,” said Kullmann.

One of her favorite qualities of his was how strongly he cared for those closest to him, saying “every conversation ended with ‘and I love you.’ It was so cute hearing him say it to his guy friends, he’d be like, ‘I love you man, love you.’”

Cade Reddington
Cade Reddington(Michelle Kullmann)

Tragedy struck shortly after Cade graduated from Waunakee Community High School and started attending school at UW Milwaukee. On November 4th, 2021, Cade died in his dorm room after taking what he thought was a Percocet (oxycodone) pill.

“They tried to give him a few rounds of Narcan but they couldn’t revive him,” said Kullmann.

Kullmann said a preliminary toxicology report shows Cade died of fentanyl poisoning from a counterfeit pill, adding “it was 100% fentanyl. There was no oxycodone in it at all.” The family is still waiting on a final toxicology report, but do not expect to receive that for at least another month.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says fentanyl is a highly potent and cheaply made synthetic opiate. Officials say drug traffickers will lace fake pills with fentanyl to save costs and get users hooked. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can kill a person.

According to the DEA, from January of 2020 - January of 2021, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl, rose over 55%.

The agency is reporting a dramatic rise in the number of counterfeit pills that contain a lethal amount of fentanyl: 4 out of every 10 pills seized. In 2021 alone, the DEA seized enough fentanyl to provide a deadly dose to every American.

Preventing more deaths and educating people about this rapidly growing crisis is Kullmann’s new life mission.

“I did not know that Cade was using so this wasn’t something that was even on my radar, but I am a fierce mama bear, and my child was robbed from me. This is my way of grieving is putting it into action because I can’t just sit by and let other families suffer this kind of loss,” told Kullmann.

She’s advocating for revived public health campaigns to spread the word on how easily kids can get access to drugs on social media and the growing risk that just one pill can kill.

“We need to be shouting this from the rooftops that this is a crisis that we’re in,” adding, “kids at this age think that they’re invincible and they think it’s not going to happen to them, but it has and it will,” said Kullmann.

Kullmann also met via Zoom with UW Interim President Tommy Thompson to advocate for better education on UW campuses and access to Narcan, a medicine that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

Cade Reddington
Cade Reddington(Michelle Kullmann)

She asked for the meeting after finding out that another UW Milwaukee student, 19-year-old Logan Rachwal, also died of fentanyl poisoning, in the same campus dorm as Cade, in February of 2021. She and Logan’s mother, Erin Rachwal, felt that conversation is helping spark change.

“They’re taking this very seriously now and the wheels are in motion now to try and get Narcan on all college campuses and to increase the education, or to update the education, that’s given to students about the fentanyl crisis,” said Kullmann.

NBC15 reached out to President Thompson’s office for comment on the meeting with Kullmann and Rachwal and received this statement from President Thompson via email:

“We had a great discussion with the parents and grieve for their losses. This is an issue we have always treated seriously, but recognize more can always be done. We are working with them on additional strategies that we can implement systemwide to combat drug use and help affected students.”

Kullmann is also taking her concerns to Wisconsin lawmakers. On Thursday, she shared Cade’s story in the state capitol building during a hearing on Senate Bill 600, which aims to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips.

Michelle Kullmann stands outside the capitol ahead of a hearing on Senate Bill 600 on Thursday.
Michelle Kullmann stands outside the capitol ahead of a hearing on Senate Bill 600 on Thursday.(Erin Sullivan WMTV)

The strips are dipped into a mixture of water and any kind of drug to detect if there is fentanyl present. They are currently considered drug paraphernalia in Wisconsin.

Dozens of lawmakers on both sides of the isle support legalizing them, saying the strips protect not only drug users, but those working on the front lines.

“This is simple, cost effective and will save lives and yet the biggest obstacle to getting these strips into the hands of people is that it is presently illegal, a felony,” said Democratic Senator Lena Taylor with Senate District 4.

She added that, “between 2015 and 2020 the number of overdoses that are connected to fentanyl in Milwaukee County alone went from 8% to 73%.”

Republican Representative Jesse James, with Assembly District 68, feels this legislation is “a matter of life and death,” stating that “fentanyl kills and that’s what it comes down to. The people that use the substances, I don’t think it’s their intent to die.”

Critics fear the strips could encourage people to continue to abuse drugs.

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