PASO ROBLES — Two North County moms have bonded over the loss of their teenage sons in two separate fentanyl poisoning incidents earlier this year. They are informing others of its dangers through the Empty Chair campaign.

For two hours Sunday afternoon, Sept. 27, Atascadero mothers Cindy Sarantos and Cammie Velci spoke to passersby at the Downtown City Park in Paso Robles about losing someone to the plague of fentanyl overdose and poisoning deaths in the US.

Sarantos found her son lifeless in his room after taking what he thought was ecstasy, but it had fentanyl in it. Fentanyl is cut into cocaine, heroin or other drugs to increase the profits for drug dealers.

“My son was a good kid. When we found him, he had his laptop open with his homework,” Sarantos said. “My son did not mean to die…he made music, he was making his own clothing line, he was trademarked and he was working. I think he did it as a mistake, not thinking he was going to go and he did not know it had fentanyl.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Even tiny doses, as little as two milligrams, the size of two grains of salt, is a fatal dose for most people.

Legal fentanyl is prescribed to patients, much like morphine, for extreme pain. It was developed in part to ease the pain for cancer or post-surgery patients. 

However, the amount made far exceeds the need for the number of such patients. One-third of the patients prescribed to it become addicted, and still, more are diverted to illicit use.

Nearly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary data released in July by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — an increase of 5 percent from 2018. That’s three times as many deaths compared to the previous decade. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for young people, even more than traffic accidents.

The Empty Chair initiative was created by an organization called Drug Induced Homicide. According to its website, druginducedhomicide.org aims to raise awareness and educate the public on drug toxicity deaths they say occur every 11 minutes in America.

Due to the opioid crisis, Naloxone or Narcan is increasingly being used by police officers, emergency medical technicians, and non-emergency first responders to reverse opioid overdoses.

The mission of Drug Induced Homicide is to introduce drug-induced homicide legislation to states like California that do not currently have this statute. Twenty-five of 50 states have a drug-induced homicide statute.

The laws are used to hold people who deal drugs criminally responsible if someone dies from the drugs they have sold. 

Drug Induced Homicide supports the prosecution of drug crimes and the families of victims who were unlawfully delivered a controlled substance resulting in their death.

Families Against Fentanyl — https://familiesagainstfentanyl.org/ — started a petition on Change.org asking the US House of Representatives to declare illegal fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction. This would put it in the same category as anthrax and cyanide.

Velci is working with San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow to find and prosecute the dealer who supplied a Percocet laced with fentanyl to her son. 

“This is the true pandemic — our youth is getting ‘wiped out.’ It is generational genocide,” said Velci. “My hope is for them to make laws and to stop people from bringing it in — it is heartbreaking to see all the kids that are dying from this.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles