Life for Matt Capellato as he knew it two days before Christmas 2019, when he saw his 20-year-old daughter Alexandra dead in his childhood bedroom in Temecula, California. Anger surpasses mourning when authorities declare his death an accident.
College Sophomore, at home for the holidays, ate half a pill he bought from a Snapchat dealer. It is fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that helped kill more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States last year. “He was poisoned, and nothing will happen to the person who did it,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it.”
The self-proclaimed political moderate says the experience has made him critical of California’s reluctance to impose harsh penalties for drug crimes.
So Capeloto, a suburban dad who once devoted all his time to running his print shop and raising his four daughters, started a group called Drug Involved Homicide and traveled from his home to Sacramento in April to lobby for a law known as “Alexandra’s Law”. Did. The bill would make it easier for California prosecutors to convict drug dealers of murder.
Capelouto’s organization is part of a nationwide movement of activists from parents to fight the growing deadly drug crisis – and they are challenging the California doctrine that drugs should be considered a health problem without being judged by the criminal justice system. Madras Against Drunk Driving, which sparked a movement in the 1980s, organizations such as Victims of Ellisit Drugs and the Alexander Neville Foundation seek to raise public awareness and influence drug policy. One group, Mothers Against Drug Deaths, paid tribute to the acronym MADD.
Groups are urging state lawmakers to impose harsher penalties on dealers and lobby technology companies to allow parents to monitor their children’s interactions on social media. They put up billboards blaming politicians for the drug crisis and the stage “In” Protests against the open-air drug market in Los Angeles’ Venice Beach and San Francisco’s Tenderline neighborhood.
“This problem is being addressed through grassroots efforts by the affected families,” said Ed Tarnan, who runs the Pasadena-based group for Charlie, which focuses on educating young people about the dangers of counterfeit pills.
Many parents rallied after the death wave that began in 2019. Often, they involve high school or college students who thought they were taking OxyContin or Xanax bought from social media but were actually taking fentanyl-containing pills. The drug first hit the East Coast nearly a decade ago, primarily through the supply of heroin, but Mexican drug cartels have since launched counterfeit pharmaceuticals made with highly addictive powders to attract new customers in California and Arizona.
In many cases, the victims of overdoses are directly on-the-go students or suburban star athletes, creating a force of educated, employed guardians who challenge the silence and stigma surrounding drug deaths.
Tarnan knew almost nothing about fentanyl when his 22-year-old son, Charlie, died in the bedroom of his fraternity home at Santa Clara University a few weeks before he graduated in the spring of 2020. From Charlie’s phone message, relatives determined that he wanted to buy Percoset, a prescription painkiller, after he had back surgery two years ago. First responders said the strapping 6-foot-2-inch, 235-pound college senior mesh pill died within half an hour of being swallowed.
Tarnan has discovered a string of deaths similar to those of other Silicon Valley communities. In 2021, 106 fentanyl overdoses died in Santa Clara County – up from 11 in 2018. The dead included a Stanford University sophomore and a 12-year-old girl in San Jose.
With the help of two Google executives who lost boys to fentanyl drugs, Tarnan persuaded Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, YouTube and other social media platforms to provide advertising space for warnings about counterfeit drugs. Parental group pressure has also encouraged Santa Monica-based Snapchat to set up tools to detect restrictions designed to make it harder for drug dealers and dealers to target minors.
Since the first day of the opioid epidemic, families of addicts and those who have died of overdose have supported each other in church basements and on online platforms from Florida to Oregon. Now, family-run companies emerging from the California fentanyl crisis have begun collaborating with each other.
A network of parent groups and other activists calling themselves the California Peace Coalition, recently formed by Michael Shellenberger, is a Berkeley writer and activist running for governor as an independent.
Jackie Berlin, a critic of California’s progressive policy, is a legal process clerk in the East Bay who started mothers against drug deaths – a name he chose in honor of the achievements of Candace Lightner, the founder of Drunk Driving Against Mothers, a Fair Oaks housewife who died in 1980. The one-year-old girl was killed under the influence of the driver.
Corey, 30, a Berlin boy, has been using heroin and fentanyl on the streets of San Francisco for seven years. “My son is not garbage,” Berlin said. “She deserves to get her life back.”
He believes that the city’s decision not to charge dealers has led to the development of open-air drug markets in certain areas and enabled drug use, but also encouraged people working with addiction to seek help.
In April, the group in Berlin spent $ 25,000 to build a billboard in the high-rise retail district of Union Square. A brilliant night shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, the sign says: “Our brains, beauty and now, world-famous for dirty-cheap fentanyl.”
This month, the group set up a sign along Interstate 80 heading to Sacramento targeting Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. Playing signboards in the park, a “Welcome to Camp Fentanyl” salute is shown against homeless camp shots. The group said a mobile billboard would orbit the state capital for an undisclosed period.
Mothers Against Drug Deaths calls for more alternatives to drug treatment and more arrests of funds and dealers. The latter would mark a sharp twist from the gospel of “harm reduction,” a public health approach adopted by state and local authorities that makes abstinence unrealistic. Instead, the strategy calls for people dealing with addiction to stay safe through things like needle exchange and naloxone, an overdose reversal drug that has saved thousands of lives.
The parent movement echoes the efforts happening in the two big cities. Progressive prosecutors Chesa Baudin in San Francisco and George Gascon in Los Angeles have avoided jailing street vendors in what they call a meaningless game that punishes poor minorities.
California lawmakers have blocked a series of bills warning against repeating the mistakes of the war-on-drugs era and tightening fines for fentanyl sales. They say the law will accomplish little in the way of packing state prisons and prisons.
“We can put people in prison for thousands of years, and it won’t stop people from getting addicted to drugs, and it won’t save them from death,” said State Sen. Scott Winer (D-San Francisco). “We know from experience.”
Some parents agree. After watching her son wander into and out of the criminal justice system on petty drug charges in the 1990s, Gretchen Burns Bergman became convinced that prosecuting people for petty drug offenses, such as possession, was counterproductive.
In 1999, San Diego fashion show producers began a new path, advocating for the legalization of marijuana and the repeal of California’s “Three Strikes” Act. A decade later, she formed Moms United, a nationwide coalition, to end the war on drugs. Today, her two sons have recovered from heroin addiction with the help of “sympathetic support” and are working as drug counselors, she said.
“I’ve been watching the pendulum swing for so long,” Burns Bergman said of the public’s changing attitudes toward law enforcement.
In December, Riverside’s 22-year-old Brandon McDowell was arrested and charged with selling tablets that killed Matt Capeloto’s daughter. McDowell was charged with distributing fentanyl resulting in death, which carries a mandatory 20-year mandatory minimum sentence in federal prison.
Although it failed to get it from Alexandra’s law committee, Capeloto noted that year after year lobbying has led to the passage of strict drunken driving laws. He promised not to give up the bill named after his daughter, who wrote the poem and loved David Bobby.
“I’m going back in front of them,” he said, “every year.”
The story was produced by KHN, which publishes the California Healthline, the editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.
Contact Us Submit a story tip