Fentanyl overdoses and deaths are on the rise
The community of Arroyo Grande lost a 13-year-old student from Judkins Middle School on Thursday to a suspected drug overdose.
Although the official cause of death has not been released and the investigation is ongoing, members of the community say that although this loss is tragic, it is unlikely to be the last.
San Luis Obispo resident Matt Morgan started using hard drugs at age 17.
“I just wanted the pain to stop and the only way to stop was to sober up or get locked up or covered up,” said San Luis Obispo resident Matt Morgan.
For Morgan, news of a drug overdose claiming a young life hits close to home. He lost a friend to a fentanyl overdose and says he fell ill after using other drugs that he had cut with before he was sober.
Morgan says dealers often push fentanyl on children, leading them down a dangerous path.
“When these kids die or are hospitalized, they don’t care. They have the money in their wallet,” Morgan said.
Morgan used drugs because he was in pain, but his motivation to get clean and stay clean ultimately comes from his family.
“I don’t want to hurt my family anymore, to see it shine like my brother’s eyes, my mom’s eyes, my dad’s eyes, I don’t know. That’s my motivation to keep going,” Morgan said.
His advice for those struggling?
“People say pretend until you make it? Throw that out the window. Face it until you make it,” Morgan said.
Aspire Counseling is one of the many places troubled youth can turn to when seeking help with addictions.
Aspire is a community-based mental health and addictions treatment facility. It provides a place people can go if they’re having trouble, thinking about using, or just need someone to talk to. They have both a teen and adult program that caters to people as young as 13 and as old as 70.
“I’ve been in this business for 16 years and honestly the last 3 years have been tragic,” said Aspire Counseling Executive Director Tom Buckley.
The entire cocaine supply in the United States is contaminated with fentanyl. All of the methamphetamine in the county has potentially been contaminated with fentanyl, leading to people who have a long history of cocaine or methamphetamine addiction to develop fentanyl addiction.
Long-time drug addicts aren’t the only ones at risk. Children unknowingly take pills containing fentanyl, but are pressured to look exactly like Percocet, Xanax and Adderall.
“Kids get their hands on it at school and don’t realize they’re actually squeezed on deadly fentanyl,” Buckley said.
Often, fentanyl is instantly fatal, leading to an increase in drug overdoses.
“These counterfeit drugs are here. They’re on every campus in San Luis County,” Buckley said.
Aspire Drug and Alcohol Advisor Kathryn Klepper says there has been an intense increase in fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths.
Fentanyl is a cheaper way to cut substances to save money for production purposes, leading the user to unknowingly purchase a product containing fentanyl.
“It was created in Belgium in a lab by a chemist who produced the drug for the purpose of pain relief,” said Kathryn Klepper, drug and alcohol counselor at Aspire Counseling.
Over time the drug made its way through the black market to America and by 2015 there was a prevalence of fentanyl in the US drug supply.
“We’ve just seen an increase, a steady increase in the number of overdoses, and also the age of first use getting younger,” Klepper said.
These drugs are already found in middle schools, high schools, and colleges throughout San Luis Obispo County.
“I wouldn’t put it beyond going to elementary schools,” Buckley said.
TV shows like Euphoria which are very popular among young teenagers are not the problem. Instead of promoting the behavior, Buckley said it shows what the reality is like for drug addicts in communities across the country.
“This was here long before Euphoria and it’s almost the chronicle of what’s going on. These kids have no idea what they’re taking,” Buckley said.
Morgan advised students who might be in a place similar to where he was before he got sober to turn to available resources and ask for help.
“You are loved, you are worth it, get help. People care about you. Don’t turn to drugs. Turn to other people,” Morgan said.
Solutions moving forward include education about what exists and what it might contain, immediate treatment, and a sense of connection. It makes young people feel like they are part of something that includes family, friends and social circles.
Mayor Caren Ray Russom of Arroyo Grande also released a statement expressing condolences and offering addiction and mental health services to those in need.