BONITA, Calif. — Fentanyl is now the number one killer among young people here in San Diego County, which is now an epicenter for trafficking this deadly drug, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
On Friday night in Bonita, a special forum addressing this crisis focused specifically on the Hispanic community.
Conducted almost entirely in Spanish, it helped educate the Spanish-speaking community about the dangers of fentanyl, a message delivered directly by families who have lost their own children to this epidemic.
"I had never heard of fentanyl before in my life," said Jaime Puerta, president of the non-profit Victims of Illicit Drugs.
Puerta is featured in the documentary "Dead on Arrival", in which he shares his story of losing his only child Daniel to a fentanyl overdose in 2020 when Daniel was only sixteen years old.
"He never had a chance to graduate high school, never had a chance to graduate college... He will never be a father, I will never be a grandfather," Puerta told CBS 8. "It was absolutely devastating to our family."
Puerta and other parents shared their deeply personal stories Friday night with an audience of South Bay families, opening their eyes to the scourge of fentanyl.
"The fentanyl crisis involves the whole family," said Dr. Beatriz Villareal, founder of the non-profit Mano a Mano Foundation, which organized this event specifically for San Diego's Spanish-speaking community.
"This is 100% culturally sensitive, taking into consideration the culture, their way of thinking," Villareal added. "That's why it is so powerful."
It is a powerful message with a practical approach: each family in the audience also received a dose of Narcan, used to counteract a potentially fatal fentanyl overdose, as well as instructions to use it.
"This is really preventable," said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said that, last year, fentanyl claimed over 800 lives throughout the county, including twelve kids ages 14 to 17. A dramatic jump from just two years ago.
"It is actually killing more people, young people in San Diego County and across the nation, than any other cause," Stephan added.
Stephan said that the cartel is manufacturing pills that appear harmless, like oxycodone or Xanax, but are in reality are laced with this deadly synthetic opioid.
"If it's not coming from a pharmacy or a doctor, it is likely to have fentanyl," said Stephan.
Jaime Puerta said that forums like this help to counter the cultural taboos in the Hispanic community surrounding drug use.
"The more we talk about it the more people will be aware, and the more lives will be saved," he said.
If you'd like to watch the documentary Dead on Arrival, click here.
The non-profit Mano a Mano is planning similar forums in the coming months in Chula Vista, San Ysidro, San Marcos and other parts of the county. For more information, click here.
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