Loss of Marin family boosts campaign against ‘fentapills’

When Avery Kalafatas’ cousin died in 2020, it was a blow that set her on the path to helping other teens avoid the same fate.

Kalafatas, 17, from Ross, said his cousin, Aidan Mullin, took a pill he got from a friend. Mullin thought the pill was Percocet, a prescription painkiller.

Instead, it was a fake prescription pill containing fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that looks like morphine, but 100 times stronger. Mullin, 18, was dead within minutes, Kalafatas said.

“It wasn’t until he died that I realized how bad the prescription drug abuse and associated fentanyl poisoning had become,” said Kalafatas, who attends a private high school outside. of Marin.

“In fact, while much has been written about COVID-19, far too little media has focused on the fact that fentanyl has claimed the lives of more Americans aged 18-35 than COVID and its variants” , she said.

This dynamic could change at Marin.

According to California Overdose Surveillance DatabaseMarin had 62 overdose deaths in 2021, compared to 30 deaths in 2018. At least half involved fentanyl, officials said.

Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said the rise in overdose deaths is disproportionately affecting young Marin residents.

“For all Marin residents under age 60, there was a 10 times greater risk of dying from a drug overdose than the risk of dying from COVID in 2021,” Willis said.

As the coronavirus pandemic begins to subside, Willis said, the county will begin to step up efforts to raise awareness and prevent drug overdoses.

Kalafatas forms a non-profit association, Project1Life.org, to spread the word about what she and others call “fentapills,” black market drugs that look like legitimate prescription painkillers or anti-anxiety medications such as Percocet, Xanax, Adderall or Oxycontin. Instead, they are deadly fentanyl delivery bombs.

Fentapills don’t care whether the person taking them is a drug addict in a low-income, urban neighborhood, or a young person in an affluent Bay Area suburb who takes a pill to relax after the finale, Brennan Mullin said. , Aidan, resident of Los Gatos. Mullin’s father and Kalafatas’ uncle.

“I think there’s a misperception that it’s some kind of Tenderloin drug,” Mullin said, referring to the area of ​​San Francisco notorious for drugs and crime.

“It’s definitely happening there,” he said. “But it’s also Los Gatos, Marin County – affluent enclaves of America with well-behaved, loving families, with well-educated and smart kids who go to college or at University.”

“It’s not a troubled kid who’s a recluse – it’s kids who go somewhere else and have a solid education,” he said.

Mullin, a Google executive and graduate of San Rafael High School in 1989, joined the board of SongforCharlie.orga non-profit association created by Ed Ternan, whose son Charlie also died to take a fentapill.

Ternan spoke with students at Branson School in Ross earlier this year, Mullin said. Song for Charlie is also spreading the message on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and other social media, Mullin said.

“It’s not a ‘don’t do drugs’ thing,” he said. “It’s a story of: Bottom line, don’t take any pill you get from anyone – unless it’s a doctor’s prescription.”

The goal is to “educate the majority of people from college age to around 25,” Mullin said.

“This epidemic is tragic and it disproportionately affects young people,” he said.

While the campaign’s top priority is to reduce demand for fentapills, Mullin said the nonprofit is also compassionate to teens or young people who may experience mental health issues in the normal course of their lives. growth and may turn to various substances to self-medicate or just to experiment.

“I have no judgment on that,” Mullin said. “There is a youth mental health crisis in the United States. I’m equally interested in why a person would choose to take a pill in the first place.

Since 2013, counterfeit fentanyl prescription pills have caused thousands of deaths in the United States. Initially, fentanyl made by labs in China was easily shipped to dealers in the United States, who turned them into counterfeit pills using presses and swabs.

Medical Examiner Terry Baisz shows pills resembling pharmaceutical drugs at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department crime lab. They are actually fentanyl pills. (Michael Goulding/Orange County Registry)

Unlike a brick of heroin or a bag of cocaine, synthetic fentapills are undetectable by dogs and can easily be mailed.

Increasingly, Mexican drug cartels have seized this opportunity and flooded the US market with it. Hundreds of millions of fentapills are available, selling for between $20 and $30 each.

About 10,000 Americans died in 2020 alone after taking a single pill they thought was a legitimate prescription drug but was a fentapill.

Earlier this year, at least two forums were held in Marin highlighting personal stories Marin teenagers and families who have lost loved ones or school friends to fentanyl poisoning. Some of Marin’s teenagers who spoke at the forums signed up as volunteer “ambassadors” for the Kalafatas nonprofit.

“We are working under the direction of Marin County Health and Human Services on a four-pronged approach that was inspired by a group of Marin student journalists during a March 29 student-led discussion on the fentanyl crisis” , said Mary Jane Burke, Sailor. Superintendent of Schools, in an email.

“The four areas of focus for expanding awareness are parent and family education and outreach, Narcan distribution and training, expanded curriculum, and wellness and mental health supports,” said she declared.

Narcan, or naloxone, is an emergency medication that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Burke added that she and Willis sent a letter to seniors graduating this year and their families, alerting them to the risks of fentapills.

“Ultimately, we know it will take a village to help spread awareness of the growing prevalence and threat of fentanyl – especially to young people in our community and across the country,” Burke said.

“We know our law enforcement partners are working with the DEA to do everything possible to find and prosecute the distributors,” she added, referring to the US Drug Enforcement Administration. “The more awareness and education we can increase, the more likely we are to prevent tragic death from fentanyl overdoses.”

Ross resident Hadley Mullin – Kalafatas’ mother and Aidan Mullin’s aunt – said she hopes all efforts will help other families avoid the loss her family has suffered over the past two years . She is a civic activist in Marin and sits on various boards and foundations.

“I urge all of Marin’s parents to be more careful than ever,” she said. “To be more honest with your teenagers and young adults about the danger of taking pills or any form of adulterated drugs.”

Mullin said parents of highly educated, athletic, outgoing kids might not see their teenagers as the type to use illicit drugs. Or to pop a pill at a party.

“They need to understand that one pill can kill,” she said. “I want to make sure Marin’s parents have their eyes and ears open.”

Bay Area News Group contributed to this report.

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