The Arroyo Grande community lost a 13-year-old Judkins Middle School student to a suspected drug overdose on Thursday.
Though the official cause of death has not been released and the investigation is ongoing, community members say though this loss is tragic it likely won’t be the last.
San Luis Obispo resident Matt Morgan began using hard drugs at age 17.
“I just wanted the pain to stop and the only way to stop was to sober up or get locked up or covered up,” said San Luis Obispo resident, Matt Morgan.
For Morgan, the news of a drug overdose claiming a young life hits close to home. He lost a friend to a fentanyl overdose and says he became sick from using other drugs that had been cut with it before he was sober.
Morgan says dealers often push fentanyl on kids, leading them down a dangerous path.
“When those kids end up dead or in the hospital, they don’t care. They’ve got the money in their wallet,” said Morgan.
Morgan was using drugs because he was hurting, but his motivation to get clean and stay clean ultimately comes from his family.
“I don’t want to hurt my family anymore, to see that shine in like my sibling’s eyes, my mom’s eyes, my dad’s eyes, I don’t know. That’s my motivation to keep going,” said Morgan.
His advice for those who are struggling?
“People say fake it ’til you make it? Throw that out the window. Face it ’til you make it,” said Morgan.
Aspire Counseling is one of the many places struggling youth can turn to when seeking help with addiction.
Aspire is a community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment facility. It provides a place where people can go if they are struggling, thinking of using, or just need someone to talk to. They have both a teen and adult program seeing people as young as 13 and as old as 70.
“I’ve been in this field for 16 years and honestly the last 3 years have been tragic,” said Aspire Counseling Executive Director, Tom Buckley.
The entire cocaine supply in the United States is tainted with fentanyl. All the methamphetamine in the county has potentially been tainted with fentanyl, leading people who have a long history of cocaine or methamphetamine addiction to develop a fentanyl addiction.
Long-time addicts aren’t the only ones at risk. Kids are unknowingly taking pills that contain fentanyl but are being pressed to look exactly like Percocet, Xanax, and Adderall.
“Kids are getting their hands on these at school and not realizing that they’re actually pressed out of deadly fentanyl,” said Buckley.
Oftentimes, fentanyl is instantly deadly, leading to an increase in drug overdoses.
“These counterfeit drugs are here. They’re on every campus in San Luis County,” said Buckley.
Aspire drug and alcohol counselor, Kathryn Klepper, says there has been an intense rise in fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths.
Fentanyl is a cheaper way to cut substances to save money for production purposes, leading the user to unknowingly buy a product containing fentanyl.
“It was created in Belgium in a lab by a chemist who produced the drug for the purposes of serving pain,” said Aspire Counseling drug & alcohol counselor, Kathryn Klepper.
Over time, the drug made its way through the black market to America and in 2015 there was a prevalence of fentanyl in the U.S. drug supply.
“We’ve just been seeing a rise, a steady rise in the amount of overdoses, and also the age is getting younger of the first use,” said Klepper.
These drugs are already in the junior highs, high schools, and colleges in San Luis Obispo County.
“I wouldn’t put it past getting to elementary schools,” said Buckley.
Television shows like Euphoria which are wildly popular among young teens are not the problem. Instead of promoting the behavior, Buckley said it shows what reality is like for addicts in every community across the country.
“This was here long before Euphoria and it is almost chronicling what’s happening. These kids have no idea what they’re taking,” said Buckley.
Morgan advised students who may be in a similar place to where he was before getting sober to turn to available resources and reach out for help.
“You’re loved, you’re worth it, get help. People care about you. Don’t turn to the drugs. Turn to other people,” said Morgan.
Solutions moving forward include education about what’s out there and what it might contain, immediate treatment, and a sense of connection. This makes youth feel as if they are a part of something including family, friends, and social circles.
Mayor Caren Ray Russom of Arroyo Grande also released a statement expressing condolences and offering substance abuse and mental health services for those in need.