Tim Whyte | Fentanyl, Tears and Winnie the Pooh

Tim Whyte

I didn’t expect to cry. 

But there I was, at a “work event,” wiping away tears as if I was hiding in a dark movie theater, watching a rom-com, trying in vain not to let my wife see that I’d gotten in touch with my emotional side. 

There was nothing romantic or funny about this, though.  

It was the Fentanyl Town Hall, hosted by The Signal. My boss, Signal Owner/Publisher Richard Budman, came up with the idea: 

What if we held a town hall, with expert speakers from multiple agencies and organizations and, at the end, we distributed free doses of Narcan? 

Narcan is the nasal spray that can reverse an opiate overdose. 

Richard wanted to do something to help defeat the crisis — yet was concerned about a potential, unintended, negative impact of the idea, and we talked about it: What if people mistook the distribution of Narcan as something of a “get out of overdose free” card? The intent here, clearly, is not to promote drug use.  

And that’s not what Narcan is. It’s a last resort, a “spare tire,” as Richard put it. You don’t intend to use it — until you need to.

My take? Any one of the 150 doses of naloxone (Narcan) that were distributed at Thursday’s event could end up saving a life. 

That makes it worthwhile.

Among all the panelists, it was Olivia Flores’ story that hit me the hardest during that town hall, attended by about 150 community members.  

Olivia sat bravely at the front of the room at the Canyon Country Community Center, at the same table as the drug rehab expert, the county supervisor, the mayor, the two sheriff’s captains, the Fire Department battalion chief, the school district superintendent, the emergency room physician, the deputy district attorney, the two doctors from the Public Health Department… 

Heavy hitters, all of them.

And Olivia told a story from the heart. Her whole heart. 

Olivia’s 18-year-old brother died from fentanyl. She talked about him while clutching a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal.

Speaking through tears, she said her little brother had given her the stuffed bear when they had gone to Disneyland together. And now, she keeps it close — and when she wants to hug her brother, she has just the bear, providing her a connection to her brother whose life ended way too soon.

It was an emotional gut punch. And I thank her for delivering it, because she didn’t have to. It takes a lot to sit in front of a room full of strangers and share something so deeply personal, in the interest of helping others.

Her story really stuck with me, as I suspect it did with everyone in the room.

After the town hall ended, on my way out of the Canyon Country Community Center, I stopped at the table in the foyer where L.A. County representatives had been distributing the free doses of naloxone. After the panel discussion ended, dozens of people had queued up to receive the naloxone, provided by the county at no charge.

It appeared they had enough doses remaining so there would be enough for the stragglers who remained inside the meeting room talking to the panelists. 

So, I took one. I’m going to keep it in my backpack with my laptop and my camera.

Because you never know. 

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

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