In April 2020, I found my 16-year-old son, Daniel, unconscious in his bed.
He had overdosed on a counterfeit Oxycodone pill that he purchased on Snapchat. It was spiked with fentanyl. A few days later, Daniel’s mother and I were forced to make a decision that no parent should ever face: we removed our son from life support.
There are no words to describe the agony that I and far too many other parents have experienced.
America’s opioid epidemic is more deadly than ever. Spurred by the proliferation of fentanyl and other highly-potent synthetic painkillers, more than 100,000 people died from an opioid overdose over a one-year span after Daniel’s death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, overdose deaths surged 48% percent over a similar period statewide, representing the fifth-highest increase in the country.
The mounting toll demands swift and decisive action from our government. So far, California is not doing enough to prevent overdose deaths.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved a double-strength naloxone product, Kloxxado, to help counteract stronger drugs like fentanyl, which is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Naloxone is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, and has helped revive countless overdose victims by restoring their breathing. Double-strength naloxone is administered in the exact same way as traditional nasal spray naloxone, and carries the same warnings and precautions.
Helped in part by federal grants, California distributes free naloxone to first responders, community organizations, schools and health care providers. Many reportedly use multiple doses to revive someone, spurring efforts to expand overdose reversal treatments to include Kloxxado. A wide array of stakeholders have launched a letter-writing campaign, hosted educational forums and even testified at the Legislature to raise awareness.
Unfortunately, the California Department of Health Care Services and state leaders have declined to include stronger naloxone treatments in their programs, needlessly putting the lives of Californians at greater risk. It is inexcusable that government officials refuse to utilize every tool available to confront this epidemic.
Since my son’s unfathomable death, I have dedicated my life to ensuring that other parents do not have to go through the same type of tragedy that my family has experienced. Through this work, I have met and worked with countless other parents who lost children to fentanyl, which has been an unfortunate blessing.
An important piece of our work is ensuring that the state officials do their part to get the right overdose reversal tools into the hands of those that need them most. I know all too well that this is truly a matter of life and death.
California must make double-strength naloxone available before more families experience the unspeakable tragedy that mine lives with every day. The state’s inaction in the face of a historic epidemic is unconscionable.
Jaime Puerta is a Marine veteran and CEO of Puerta & Associates Inc., a small language interpreting business. Puerta founded VOID and cofounded Facing Fentanyl to reduce overdose deaths in California and honor his son’s memory. The author wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.