Mothers rally to stop the death of their children from fentanyl

Roman Vardanega has been in the county jail for five months, and his mother, Tanya Tilghman, stood on the steps of City Hall on Sunday begging that he be let there.

“If they release my son, he will die and be one of those pictures on the steps,” Tilghman told a crowd of about 150 gathered on National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day. It also marked the first anniversary of Mothers Against Drug Deaths, a Bay Area coalition formed by women whose children are either on the streets or have died of drug overdoses.

Wanting to personalize these tragedies, some mums held up signs bearing the photos of their children as they stood in the scorching sun at the top of the steps.

“Today, on National Fentanyl Awareness Day, I know what fentanyl stole from me: my daughter,” said Hollister’s Lisa Richovski, whose daughter lives down the street.

Tilghman considers herself one of the lucky ones. She knows where her son is, at least until Monday morning when he appears in court.

Many other moms could feel the presence of their children somewhere across Civic Center Plaza and on the Tenderloin sidewalks. They’re addicted to fentanyl, a cheap and easy-to-make synthetic drug that’s commonly used to cut heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. It is extraordinarily potent and fast acting, making it more dangerous than most traditional street drugs.

“Fentanyl is in everything. It’s worse than heroin,” said Gina McDonald, a recovering meth addict who lives in East Bay and co-founded the group after pulling her 24-year-old daughter off the streets and putting her into recovery. , At least for the moment. “She was a heroin addict who inadvertently became addicted to fentanyl.”

She had that in common with Jacqui Berlinn of Livermore, whose son Cory, 32, has also gone from heroin to fentanyl and lives on the streets. “He’s deteriorated more in the last two years on fentanyl than in eight years on heroin,” said Berlinn, who wore a shirt with the slogan “Fentanyl Stole My Brother.”

It was her brother, Gary Parrish, who died of a fentanyl overdose in February. She’s certain he’s also stealing her son, and that’s what made her start talking. The group has 1,000 social media followers, and in just one year it has developed enough exposure to pull a letter from a lawyer representing an organization of the same name, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. After Sunday’s rally, the new group will be dubbed Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Death to avoid confusion or legal action.

MADD is nationwide. MADAD is local. And it’s become more and more urgent in San Francisco. Signs of the outbreak spread across the steps of City Hall as the rally unfolded. San Francisco firefighter Stephen Martin-Pinto worked at Station 36 at the Civic Center and came out on Sunday to testify about the situation.

“I’ve seen outdoor drug markets going on all night, every night. It’s like a festival,” Pinto said at the rally. “It’s time for city leaders to do their job and shut down open-air drug markets.”

One of those city leaders, supervisor Matt Dorsey, came out to attest that Pinto wasn’t exaggerating. He said that already this year, the Tenderloin police had removed 40 kilos, or 80 pounds, of fentanyl from street markets.

“That’s enough to wipe out the population of the entire Bay Area twice,” said Dorsey, who is recovering from a methamphetamine addiction he picked up during his nightclub years. “If fentanyl had been present when I was on drugs, I might have died,” he said.

According to statistics provided by MADAD, there were 641 drug-related deaths in San Francisco in 2021, and 74% of those deaths involve fentanyl. So far in 2022, there have been 349 drug deaths in the city, each represented by a painted rock placed on a purple satin walkway leading to the podium. The names of 990 victims from 2021 and 2022 to date were printed in frames alongside.

“We want change,” Berlinn said as he stepped onto the podium. “That’s the purpose of this rally.”

The changes MADAD is pushing for include tougher prosecutions of drug traffickers, a policy District Attorney Brooke Jenkins appeared to endorse from the podium. MADAD also wishes to increase the staff of methadone clinics and rehabilitation centres. Berlinn said she took her son Cory to a methadone clinic in December, but was turned away due to understaffing. He was told to come back the next day, which doesn’t really work with a drug addict.

“He could be dead the next day,” she said, “and it’s very demoralizing for an addict to be turned away when he asks for treatment and is told, ‘There’s nothing here for you.'”

The other thing about drug addicts is that they don’t keep regular business hours. MADAD wants clinics open 24 hours a day and on weekends. As she stood on the podium, Berlinn couldn’t help but think of her son as she gazed towards the area where he scored.

“I was hoping he would walk up and say, ‘Mom, I’m ready to leave it all behind and heal. “”

But that didn’t happen. This is why MADAD continues.

“I have to believe he will recover,” Berlinn continued, “and until that day I will fight for better resources for him and for others like him.”

Sam Whiting is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter @SamWhitingSF

About Rhonda Lee

Check Also

Five Doctors Plead Guilty to Federal Drug Crimes at HOPE Clinic | USAO-SDWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Five doctors have pleaded guilty in connection with prescribing practices at the …