Advocates call for substance abuse services in California

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Mothers Against Drug Deaths is calling on the governor to launch a statewide approach to the growing opioid crisis — specifically the drug fentanyl.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A group of California mothers gathered on Capitol Hill Thursday to make an emotional request to Governor Gavin Newsom: step up and do more for addiction and mental health.

Their group, Mothers Against Drug Deaths, is made up mostly of mothers whose children are drug addicts or whose children have overdosed and died.

“California absolutely needs to improve its mental health and addictions services,” said Jacqui Berlinn.

She knows it too well. Her 30-year-old son became addicted to heroin 10 years ago. She said he had periods of sobriety, but there has been a change recently.

“A few years ago, the dealer started putting fentanyl in heroin, and unbeknownst to him, he got addicted to fentanyl,” Berlinn said. “I’ve seen him deteriorate more in two years on fentanyl than he ever did on heroin.”

As the United States Drug Enforcement Agency explains, “Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine…Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency or to be disguised as very potent heroin. Many users think they are buying heroin and actually don’t know they are buying fentanyl – often resulting in overdose deaths.”

The most recent data from the state shows that nearly 4,000 people died from fentanyl overdoses in 2020. This represents more than 70% of all opioid-related deaths in California that year.

That’s why Mothers Against Drug Deaths launched an awareness campaign using a billboard showing a tent city with a sign that read “Camp Fentanyl: Open to Kids Everywhere,” asking Governor Newsom to “shut down open-air drug markets now”. Drivers can see the new billboard along the I-80 Business Loop/Capital City Freeway near Harbor Boulevard in West Sacramento.

Berlinn said his son told him that over the past six months he started seeing more and more teenagers coming to the outdoor drug markets he frequented in San Francisco.

Outdoor drug markets, the mothers explained, are spaces in big cities like San Francisco where drug dealers can openly sell drugs, even in full view of law enforcement.

“It’s incredibly frustrating. It’s a life or death situation, and I feel like I’m shouting into the wind and people aren’t listening,” Berlinn said. “I see my son struggling to recover. I see many other people on the streets struggling to recover, and California just doesn’t have the mental health and addictions services it needs to help people recover.

She said San Francisco’s lack of enforcement of laws that would prosecute drug traffickers would ultimately allow people like her son to remain addicted.

“Allowing someone is just letting them take their own life slowly,” she said.

Another mom, Gina McDonald, said empowerment — in some cases — is very literal.

“We are talking about aluminum foil distributed in the streets. Straws distributed in the streets. Pipes distributed in the streets. We agree with clean needles and NARCAN®,” or its generic name naloxone, a fast-acting drug that reverses overdoses. “I understand safe use, but at what point do we say, ‘It’s okay.’ When do we not say, ‘We are here to help you, not to help you’.

She said getting medicine is easier than getting treatment, and she knows firsthand the importance of getting help.

“I’m a recovering drug addict,” McDonald shared. “I received compulsory treatment. I was arrested by the Alameda County Sheriff, and they offered me treatment or jail. Thank God they pushed me for treatment, didn’t they? And there’s no reason why we can’t do that. We’ve been talking about this for years, building shelters, building treatment facilities. Why is it taking so long? Why? People are dying. I do not understand.”

Group co-founder Ellen Grantz, who lost cousins ​​to drug overdoses and wants to stop her two teenage boys from using drugs, said Mothers Against Drug Deaths wants Newsom to take a scaled-up approach. of the state instead of leaving addiction services to individual counties.

“It has to come from the top because it’s too difficult to deal with piecemeal,” Grantz said. “You can see people from Humboldt come to San Francisco, buy drugs and go back to Humboldt, and that’s where people overdose and die as a result.”

She said it was happening in cities across the state, including the Sacramento area.

“Mothers Against Drug Deaths hopes to prevent this from happening to more families,” Berlinn said. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I would like Newsom to start an awareness campaign about this and start telling the state that we need to enforce the laws in place.”

California lawmakers take action as 100,000 fentanyl overdoses recorded in one year

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