A rash of overdoses has brought shock and anger to families in Carrollton and become a sobering reminder of how rampantly fentanyl has made its way to young people in recent years.
The night before Jose Alberto Perez overdosed on fentanyl, the 14-year-old pleaded with his mother not to take him to the hospital because “he was not a drug addict.”
“His lips were ash white. His pupils were popping out,” the boy’s mother, Lilia Astudillo, said. But she yielded to his wishes, despite his obvious distress.
Astudillo planned to get her son medical attention the next day, but by morning he was dead.
“It hurts you to see your son after he’s gone and ask yourself, Why didn’t I know about this sooner to help him?”
Jose, who died in January, is among the nearly one dozen students spread across three schools in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District in Texas who have overdosed on fentanyl from September to March. He is one of three who have died.
The rash of overdoses has brought shock and anger to families in the Carrollton community, about 20 miles north of Dallas. It is also a sobering reminder of how rampantly fentanyl has made its way to young people in recent years.
“I never thought in a middle school there would be drugs like this,” said one mother whose 14-year-old daughter, also a student in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district, survived a fentanyl overdose this year.
“I can’t imagine the pain of another parent who is going through what I’m going through,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used to protect her daughter’s privacy.
Fentanyl, a highly potent and addictive synthetic opiate that can be deadly with a dose as small as the tip of a pencil, has ravaged adult populations for nearly a decade. But mass proliferation of the drug in recent years, coupled with a Covid pandemic that eroded teen mental health, has given it a wider path to young people.
Median monthly overdose deaths involving fentanyl for people ages 10 to 19 increased 182% from July to December 2019 compared to the same period in 2021, according to a December report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 2,200 teens fatally overdosed in the two and a half year period from July 2019 to December 2021, with fentanyl involved in 84% of the deaths, the report found.
Teen fentanyl overdoses have been reported in communities across the country, from Arlington, Virginia, to Portland, Oregon. In the Los Angeles School district alone, at least seven teens overdosed in a one-month span last year after taking pills possibly laced with the drug.
The overdoses in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School district were connected to three individuals, who lived a few blocks from the school, according to a federal complaint.
All have been charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
But that is small comfort for parents in Carrollton who are devastated and terrified for their children.
“I painted a world of wonder for my children,” said Astudillo, adding that she immigrated to the United States to get away from crime in Mexico. “And it turns out it was worse here.”
The mother of the 14-year-old who survived an overdose said victims’ families are clinging to one another for support. Many, like her, are Spanish-speaking immigrants who have not been able to get help accessing treatment and resources, she said. Some are too embarrassed to speak out.
“I think they have shame, but we shouldn’t be ashamed, because this could happen to anyone.”