SAN DIEGO — As San Diego County continues to face a surge in fentanyl overdoses, some parents are coming together to demand that this be tackled more as a public health crisis than strictly a criminal justice issue.
A town hall and panel discussion Monday night, organized by the local non-profit A New Path, or 'Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing,' called for more compassion and less criminalization when it comes to addressing fentanyl and other drugs.
"We would much rather see our resources go to harm reduction, to education, safety-first drug education, than to see it go back to the criminal justice system where everybody loses," said Gretchen Burns Bergman, co-founder and executive director of A New Path.
Monday's town hall came just one day after a record-breaking drug seizure in the history of the Andrade Port of Entry, in which nearly a million dollars worth of fentanyl and meth was hidden in the fuel tank of a pick-up truck.
"The cartels: they're bad guys. They're in this for the money and they don't care," said William Persky, who lost his 24-year-old son to a drug overdose twelve years ago.
Persky said that his son had used opioids to address his social anxiety disorder.
"The people who are users, who have other co-existing problems... they then use drugs to help ameliorate that issue," Persky added. "And so they have a problem that needs to be treated more medically, not criminally."
Many parents here are opposed to drug-induced homicide laws that mandate a homicide charge for the person supplying a drug that leads to someone's death.
The state of California currently does not have this on the books, although 23 other states, along with the District of Columbia, do.
"I think we need to have a system that carefully weighs mental health issues, cognitive issues, a lot of things we have to look at before throwing the book at someone," said Caroline Stewart, a local mother whose son is battling drug addiction and mental health issues.
Parents at Monday's town hall also advocated for more widespread availability of Naloxone, better known as 'Narcan,' which can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.
"Everybody needs Narcan," said mother April Ella, who is also part of A New Path. "It is like a fire extinguisher. It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it."
For more information on how to access Narcan here in San Diego County, as well to schedule trainings on how to administer it, click here.