Fentanyl Epidemic: Father steps up efforts to elevate criminal responsibility of drug dealers

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Alex’s dad stands with U.S. Congressman Jim Jordan during a political rally that he and a group of supporters “crashed” recently. He was able to speak with both Darrell Issa and Jordan about the issue of making drug dealers more criminally accountable for their role in overdoses. Valley News/Courtesy photo

This six-part series of stories featuring the people and the knowledge they have regarding the lethal dangers associated with fentanyl started with one man: Alex’s dad. It seems appropriate that it should end the series with him.

Alex’s dad took to the podium at the Temecula City Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 4, and read to the council a speech he had written.

“I’m here on behalf of Jacob Alexander, 2017 graduate of Chaparral High School. Dec. 3, 2019, dead,” he said. “I’m here on behalf of Caleb Dunlap, senior at Great Oak High School, Dec. 15, 2019, dead. I’m here on behalf of Dylan Perez, 2017 graduate of Great Oak High School, Dec. 17, 2019, dead. I’m here on behalf of Alexandra Capelouto, 2017 graduate of Great Oak High School, Dec. 23, 2019, dead.

“I just found that three more young people in Temecula have died since then,” he said. “I’m asking you to help me fight this epidemic.”

Alex’s dad stands with his group of supporters when they “crashed” a Darrell Issa political rally recently. They were there to promote the idea of making drug dealers more criminally accountable for their role in overdoses. Valley News/Courtesy photo

His speech was triggered by the grief he felt surrounding the death of his daughter, Alexandra, and fueled by a special bulletin by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s Temecula Station.

“The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration is alerting the public of dangerous counterfeit pills killing people in our communities,” according to the bulletin. “Mexican drug cartels are manufacturing mass quantities of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid that is lethal in minute doses, for distribution throughout North America.”

The bulletin continued that the department has responded to an “alarming number” of overdose incidents involving counterfeit “Percocet” and “oxycodone” pills.

At the bottom of the bulletin, in red lettering and all caps, it said, “Multiple overdoses have already occurred in the Temecula Valley.”

Today, Alex’s dad is working hard to help change laws associated with drug dealers and suppliers and their responsibilities as it pertains to possible charges that could be levied on them.

“We want these apparent overdose cases, as they’re calling them to be first investigated criminally,” he said. “Not state the death is overdosed or accidental until a criminal investigation has been done. In my daughter’s case, I don’t like to say she overdosed. I believe she was poisoned. That’s the reality of it. Overdose sounds like she intentionally took too much of something, and that’s not the case.”

“When the detective tells you that your daughter wouldn’t have died if what she took hadn’t had fentanyl in it, you have a homicide,” Alex’s mom said.

“So we’re out to change some of the verbiage that is used in these cases, which helps lead the stigma that’s out there,” Alex’s dad said.

“A lot of parents want that and they need that,” Alex’s mom said.

According to the couple, they have been in contact with members of the law enforcement community and county prosecutor’s office regarding their daughter’s case and how the two departments are working on this issue in particular.

“Not only my daughter’s case but a multitude of cases in this area are being looked at by the biggest and highest law officials in our area,” he said. “And they are taking aggressive action in this. They are taking it seriously. They have the top people working on it.

“I think we’re in the beginning stages, but they are actively pursuing this and I believe somewhere down the road we’re going to see some people taken in on some serious charges,” he said.

He said he recently attended a meeting involving school district superintendents, county supervisors, law enforcement and first responders.

“(One of the) guys got up and read some statistics,” Alex’s dad said. “One statistic that was very surprising to me was that in 2019 medics responded to and had to use Narcan on more teenagers in Temecula than any other city in the county.”

Countywide, overdoses involving fentanyl have doubled year over year since 2016. According to numbers not yet completely finalized, fentanyl was involved in the deaths of 120 people in Riverside County, up from 53 deaths a year before. Alex’s dad said the actual number may be much higher because some coroners only list accidental overdose as the cause of death. Fentanyl still may have been the cause, but if not mentioned, then it won’t be part of the statistical data.

To refresh the memory, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, “Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. … Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency or be disguised as highly potent heroin. Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, “overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, increased almost 47% from 2016 to 2017. Roughly 28,400 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids other than methadone in 2017.”

After making contact with local officials and regional organizations, Alex’s dad is ramping up his efforts to affect change.

“My next battle here is, and I waited until the election was over with, I’m going to be knocking on the doors of our state legislators,” he said. “I’ve written to a couple of them, and unfortunately I didn’t get any response, which is obviously disappointing. My next step is to literally start knocking on doors and confronting them personally and pleading the case because we have to have stronger laws.

“I shared with you that a drug-induced homicide statute, which 25 states have, they can charge a drug dealer with drug-induced homicide. Counties and jurisdictions are implementing it and they are having results. When these drug dealers are being held accountable, those drug dealers move out of the area and go to different areas where they’re not going to get charged with that. That’s going to be my big push, to get that implemented here.”

And he’s not just talking about doing something, he’s showing up.

On Feb. 29, he and a group of supporters held their first Rise-up Rally at a political rally for candidate Darrell Issa and U.S. Congressman Jim Jordan. They weren’t invited and just showed up.

“I found out about that event a couple of days before it was happening, and it was suggested to me by a sheriff that I ran into and was discussing my situation,” Alex’s dad said. “It was suggested to me that I might go there and see who I can speak with because there might be some good political figures for me to share my story with.

“I got the idea to pull together some of the other parents that are in my same boat in the same area and that we would just go there as a group and state our case. I think we certainly made a presence. We brought signs and banners and we all wore purple and had pictures of our loved ones. We definitely got attention. I was able to speak directly with Daryll Issa and Jim Jordan and they were both very cordial and welcomed us,” he said.

When the event was over, they were able to tell their stories to Jordan.

“We were there just to stand up for these victims and show that California needs to do more and potentially the nation needs to do more in handling this fentanyl epidemic,” he said.

Alex’s dad is the moderator of a private Facebook group called “California Drug-Induced Homicide Warrants Criminal Investigations” and said that parents in similar situations can join to discuss their cases. There’s a group for every state in the country.

“The groups are specifically for parents in our same situation,” he said. “The Facebook group pages that have been put up allow us as parents to share legal information back and forth.

“The reason they’re kept private is that we don’t want any drug dealers infiltrating these pages. We have moderators that carefully screen the people to make sure they’re actually legitimate family members of the victims.”

Alex’s mom and dad have teamed up with Terry Almanza from Chicago. Almanza lost her daughter Sydney to Ecstasy toxicity. The drug dealer in Sydney’s case was convicted of drug-induced homicide.

Together they are working on a national organization. More information can be found on the organization’s new website at www.druginducedhomicide.org.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final story in a series pertaining to fentanyl and the fatal risks associated with the drug and its effects on the community. To read all the stories in the series, visit myvalleynews.com and search “Fentanyl Epidemic” in the search bar.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.