Winded. Confused. Angry. Broken.
Saugus High student Kaysen Markoff recalled how he felt back in August 2021, after his mom told him one of his best friends, Isaac Boston, was in a coma.
Boston, just six days past his 16th birthday, thought he was taking a Xanax pill, but he didn’t realize it was laced with fentanyl. The teen died in the hospital shortly afterward, with the cause of death listed as “probable fentanyl toxicity,” according to the L.A. County Coroner’s Office.
There were 37 local stories like Boston’s last year alone, including a number of teens, which is why the city of Santa Clarita chose to again focus on fentanyl as the main topic for its annual parent symposium Thursday at the Canyon Country Community Center.
Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs, who moderated the panel discussion for “Fake and Fatal, The Truth About Fentanyl,” said as a parent himself, one of the scariest aspects is just how dangerous the drug is.
One of the statistics Gibbs mentioned was a Drug Enforcement Administration estimate that six in 10 pills not purchased over the counter are laced with fentanyl, which, in concert with the fact that only fractions of a milligram can kill, make for a deadly combination.
“Knowing that an innocent act can end a life,” he said, “and kids don’t know that they’re doing something and it can end up being the worst thing that they’ve ever done. As a parent, you’re always terrified about that.”
The panel included Capt. Justin Diez from the SCV Sheriff’s Station, Detective John Leitelt, who investigates narcotics, Karissa Provost from Insight Treatment Center and Dr. Oliver Sahagun of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.
Leitelt mentioned one case he investigated, involving a seizure of 2 kilograms of fentanyl, which, he said, might not sound like much at first, but then he put it in perspective:
“That was enough to kill 630,000 people,” he told the audience. “That’s a weapon of mass destruction in my opinion.”
Sahagun discussed the physical signs of an overdose and how Narcan, the commercial name for the anti-opioid overdose nasal spray naloxone, can counteract its effects.
Diez talked about some of the challenges in holding the offenders responsible for selling fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs due to policies created by District Attorney George Gascón. Previously, concern over a potential punishment was, for a lot of individuals struggling with addiction, Diez said, a motivation to seek help. The DA’s refusal to charge most of these cases now removes the potential punishment as well as the incentive to get help.
Provost warned parents against lecturing their children when asked about advice for starting an open and honest conversation about the topic, because it’s hard for children to relate to that, but instead having an ongoing dialogue about how it can be tough to be a teenager.
“Normalizing” teens’ potential curiosity about drugs through conversation and explaining how the situation is so much more dangerous now than it’s ever been — not just from the risk of addiction, but now, there’s a chance a single use can lead to death — is important, she said. Children should feel that they have a safe space to ask questions so they can be educated on the danger.
Prior to the panel discussion, attendees were also given an opportunity to get information from participating agencies, including L.A. County Public Health, which gave a Narcan demonstration in the lobby of the Community Center
Kristin, a local parent who declined to give her last name, was appreciative of the city’s efforts to inform, as someone who had been personally affected by the fentanyl crisis.
Her family had recently lost someone to a fentanyl overdose, and she really saw addiction and the opioid crisis as two separate issues.
“It’s one dose, and that’s it — he was gone,” she said. “I mean the drug-use problem is its own thing, and the fentanyl (problem) is its own thing. So I just want to be educated as a community member and as a parent.”
For Leitelt, who said he had two teenage kids himself, getting the information out to other parents is critical.
“As parents we need to get it out to everyone, especially people who aren’t watching, because I know this isn’t hitting everybody in the community, but they have to understand — there’s a reason why kids are going to drugs,” he said, “because it’s always been that way, whether they’re bored, they’re not challenged, if there’s no supervision ….
“And that doesn’t mean you have to be the long arm of the law, but at the same time, these kids need to know that you’re involved in their life.”