New MADD movement: Parents take action against drug deaths

Life for Matt Capellato as he knew it two days before Christmas 2019, when his 20-year-old daughter Alexandra was found dead in her childhood bedroom in Temecula, California. Anger surpasses grief when authorities rule that his death was accidental.

The college sophomore, who was home on vacation, ate half a pill he bought from one Dealer Via Snapchat. It is fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that helped push more than 100,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States last year.

“They poisoned him and nothing happened to the one who did it,” he said. “I couldn’t take it.”

Capelouto, a self-proclaimed political moderate, says experience has made him critical of California’s reluctance to impose harsh penalties for drug offenses.

So a suburban dad who once ran his own printing business and raised his four daughters, started a group called Drug Involved Homicide and traveled to Sacramento in April to lobby for a law known as “Alexandra’s Law”.

The bill would make it easier for California prosecutors to convict deadly drug dealers on murder charges.

Capelouto’s organization is part of a national movement of activists from parents who are fighting the deadly drug crisis and challenging California’s doctrine that drugs should be considered a health problem. Instead of judging through the criminal justice system.

Madras Against Drunk Driving, which gave birth to 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.

These groups are lobbying state legislators to impose harsher penalties on distributors and technology companies for allowing parents to control their children’s communication on social media.

They set up and organize street signs blaming politicians for the drug crisis “Death” protest Against the open-air drug market in Los Angeles’ Venice Beach and San Francisco’s Tenderline neighborhood.

“This problem will be solved with the grassroots efforts of the affected families,” said Ed Tarnan, who led the Pasadena-based group song for Charlie, focusing on educating young people about the dangers of counterfeit pills.

Many guardians took action after the death wave that began in 2019. Often, they are high school or college students who thought they were taking OxyContin or Xanax, which they bought on social media, but were actually taking fentanyl-containing pills.

The drug first arrived on the East Coast about a decade ago, primarily through the supply of heroin, but Mexican cartels have launched counterfeit pharmaceuticals made with highly addictive powders in California and Arizona to attract new customers.

In many cases, the victims of overdoses are suburban students or star athletes, who form a force of educated and committed parents 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 dorm 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 decide he wants to buy Percocet, a prescription painkiller he took two years ago after back surgery. First responders said the 6-foot-2, 235-pound college student died half an hour after taking a fake pill.

Tarnan discovered a series of similar deaths to other Silicon Valley communities. In 2021, fentanyl overdose killed 106 people 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 their children in fentanyl-laced pills, Tarnan agreed to give Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, YouTube and other social media platforms advertising space for fake drug warning messages.

Parental group pressure has also led Santa Monica-based Snapchat to implement tools designed to detect restrictions designed to make it harder for drug traffickers and traffickers to target minors.

Since the first day of the opioid epidemic, families of people battling addiction and overdose have stood side by side in church basements and on online platforms from Florida to Oregon. Now, well-known companies that have emerged from the fentanyl crisis in California have begun collaborating with each other.

A network of parents and other activists who call themselves the California Peace Coalition was recently formed under the leadership of Michael Shellenberger, a Berkeley writer and activist who is running for governor as an independent.

A critic of California’s progressive politics is Jackie Berlin, a legal processing clerk in the East Bay who started Mothers Against Drug Deaths, a name she chose as a tribute to the achievements of Candace Lightner, the founder of Drunk Driving Against Mothers. Fair Oaks Home whose 13-year-old daughter was killed in 1980 by a drunk 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.”

Berlin believes the city’s decision not to charge dealers has allowed open-air drug markets and drug use to grow in certain areas, rather than encouraging people to fight addiction instead of seeking help.

In April, the Berlin-based group spent $ 25,000 to build a billboard in the Union Square shopping district. Above a glittering night shot from the Golden Gate Bridge, the sign reads: “Our brains, beauty and now dirty world famous for cheap fentanyl.”

This month, the group set up a sign along Interstate 80 heading toward Sacramento, pointing to Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.

Reproducing signage used in national parks, the poster salutes “Welcome to Camp Fentanyl” against a homeless camp shot. The group said a mobile billboard would surround the state capital for an undisclosed period.

Mothers Against Drug Deaths calls for more drug treatment options and funding and more arrests of drug traffickers. The latter would mark a sharp twist from the “harm reduction” gospel, a public health approach advocated by state and local officials who see abstinence as unrealistic.

Instead, the strategy calls for helping addicts cope with needle exchange and naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug that has saved thousands of lives.

Progressive prosecutors in San Francisco, Chesa Baudin and George Gascon of Los Angeles, have avoided jailing street vendors in what they say is a stupid game that punishes poor minorities.

California lawmakers have blocked several bills that could repeat the mistakes of the drug war era and tighten penalties for selling fentanyl. They say the law would achieve anything other than filling state prisons and jails.

“We can put people in prison for a thousand years, and it won’t stop people from getting addicted to drugs, and it won’t stop them from dying,” said State Sen. Scott Winer (D-San Francisco). “We know from experience.”

Some parents agree. After watching her son move in and out of the criminal justice system on petty drug charges in the 1990s, Gretchen Burns Bergman became convinced that charging people for petty drug crimes, such as possession, was counterproductive.

In 1999, San Diego fashion show producers began a new path, advocating for the legalization of cannabis and the repeal of California’s “Three Strikes” law. A decade later, she formed Moms United, a national 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 Alexandra failed to get out of the law committee, Capeloto noted that several years of lobbying were spent until the strict drunken driving law was passed. He vowed not to give up the bill named after his daughter, who wrote the poem and loved David Bobby.

“I’m going to be in front of them again,” he said, “every year.”

Produced this story KHNWhich reveals California HealthlineAn editorial independent service California Health Care Foundation.

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