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Fentanyl: A Looming Threat That Must Be Defeated

-Editorial

In a heartbreaking tragedy, 29-year-old Benito Manuel Alvarado lost his life to a fentanyl overdose. Affectionately known as “Benny Boy” among his loved ones, he entered this world a day after his mother’s 15th birthday, earning him the nickname “Quinceañera baby.”

“Benny had a remarkable sense of humor and a compassionate nature. He was always ready to lend a helping hand, even if it meant giving away his own belongings,” recalled his mother, Griselda Lopez Martinez.

His struggles with drug addiction began during his high school years, starting with marijuana and spiraling further after the devastating loss of his five-year-old son. Martinez shared, “That loss took a tremendous toll on him, leading him deeper into the clutches of drugs.”

It was during this tumultuous period that Benny encountered individuals who introduced him to drugs, alcohol, and a reckless partying lifestyle.

“As a mother, I immediately sensed the negative influence of one particular friend who visited our home. I warned him to stay away from my son, fully aware of the danger he posed,” Martinez said, reflecting on her attempts to protect her child.

As time went on, Benny found himself in frequent trouble with the law, leading to multiple stints in jail.

“I must admit, I felt a strange sense of relief when he was incarcerated because I knew he was off drugs. I would lock myself in my room with my young child whenever he returned home with alarming behavior—screaming, yelling, talking to himself, and displaying violent tendencies,” Martinez recounted. “Every time I urged him to seek help, he would simply walk away and escape to the streets, unwilling to confront his addiction.”

During Benny’s time in jail, Martinez remarried. However, upon his release, Benny fell back into his old habits, spending nights at different homes and ultimately becoming homeless.

“I discovered my son’s passing when I received a letter from the public administrator’s office, requesting a family member to identify his body,” Martinez painfully recalled. Benny had spent 13 agonizing days in the hospital following a fentanyl overdose.

“I made the decision to bury my son next to his own son’s grave. They can be together at last, both in heaven,” she expressed, her voice laden with grief.

Determined to prevent other families from enduring her anguish, Martinez has taken it upon herself to raise awareness about the perils of fentanyl in her community. To honor Benny’s memory, she intends to speak to youth groups and organizations, sharing her story and emphasizing the dangers of fentanyl.

Benny’s tragic demise is just one among countless lives claimed by fentanyl—an insidious drug that poses a grave threat to the safety of our community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, including fentanyl and its analogs, skyrocketed by over 56% from 2019 to 2020. In 2020 alone, the number of overdose deaths connected to synthetic opioids was more than 18 times higher than in 2013. Shockingly, over 56,000 individuals lost their lives to synthetic opioid overdoses in 2020. The latest provisional drug overdose death counts, spanning through June 2021, indicate an alarming escalation of fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the severity of the issue, the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office has made fentanyl a top priority and vows to prosecute those involved in its sale to the fullest extent of the law.

“We are committed to taking an uncompromising stance against fentanyl traffickers,” asserted George Marquez, the Imperial County District Attorney. The office has established a Victim-Witness Program aimed at providing support and guidance to affected families throughout the legal process.

“We recognize that forging strong partnerships with law enforcement agencies is crucial in tackling this problem collectively. The public can trust that we are actively and aggressively targeting fentanyl dealers,” assured Marquez.

Assistant District Attorney Jefferey Brooker emphasized the importance of educating the public about fentanyl through an outreach program initiated by the office. He shed light on the lack of understanding surrounding the dangers of this drug.

“One of the most alarming aspects of fentanyl is its potency. Just two grams are enough to induce a high, while any amount beyond that can be fatal. The threat it poses is severe, particularly for young individuals experimenting with narcotics and opioids, as they often remain unaware of the risks until it’s too late,” warned Brooker.

In 2022, the El Centro Police Department made a total of 59 arrests related to fentanyl and seized approximately 600 fentanyl pills. As of March 2023, they have already made 33 arrests and confiscated 408 fentanyl pills. During the period between January 2022 and March 2023, a total of 183 fentanyl cases were reported.

“We acknowledge that fentanyl is a growing countywide issue, and we must proactively pursue it. The numbers are worsening, and we need to take a determined stand,” affirmed Brooker.

Recognizing the opioid and fentanyl crisis as a complex challenge encompassing both public health and public safety, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan offers a comprehensive approach to save lives. Building upon the Governor’s $1 billion investment in tackling the crisis, the Master Plan includes expanded operations supported by the California National Guard, resulting in a 594% increase in seized fentanyl in the previous year. This ambitious plan outlines proactive measures to prevent overdoses, hold accountable the pharmaceutical industry responsible for the opioid epidemic, crack down on drug trafficking, and raise awareness about the dangers of opioids, including fentanyl.

“Every day, over 150 lives are lost in our nation due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. This is unacceptable. With the Master Plan, California is redoubling its efforts to combat this crisis and save lives. Our comprehensive approach includes intensifying enforcement actions against transnational criminal organizations involved in trafficking this deadly poison into our communities. Simultaneously, we prioritize harm reduction strategies to decrease overdoses and offer compassionate assistance to those grappling with substance use and addiction,” declared Governor Newsom.

Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, the Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico, emphasized that combating the fentanyl problem has been a priority for the Mexican government. He asserted that Mexico plays a significant role in addressing the issue and is actively working to combat it through various measures.

“Mexico is not the problem; it is a crucial part of the solution. We are doing a great deal to combat the trafficking of fentanyl into the United States. Recent actions by Mexico have led to the seizure of large quantities of fentanyl pills destined for the United States. Without these efforts, millions more would be at risk of intoxication, potentially leading to an even higher mortality rate. This is a fact,” stated Ebrard Casaubon.

The story of Benny’s tragic demise serves as a harrowing reminder of the dangers posed by fentanyl. It is a crisis that demands urgent attention and concerted efforts from governments, law enforcement agencies, communities, and individuals alike. By raising awareness, implementing comprehensive strategies, and collaborating across borders, we can strive towards defeating this deadly threat and protecting future generations from its devastating consequences.

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