BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — As advocates describe it, Kern’s fentanyl crisis is one that crosses all socio-economic boundaries, from the affluent to the homeless, from adults to young children.
State Senator Shannon Grove and 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Flores were among the crowd in Oildale Thursday afternoon marching to raise awareness of the area’s struggle with fentanyl.
Both are proponents of harsher crackdowns on those who sell or possess fentanyl.
“One hit, one pill, one time,” Amellia May said. “That’s all it takes.”
May lost her son Jestin Jobin to fentanyl when he was 18. Jobin would’ve turned 22 on Wednesday.
“I found him in the bathroom on the floor,” May told 17 News. “Me and my then-13-year-old son pulled him out of the bathroom and did CPR on him until the EMTs got there, but there was no saving him. He was gone.”
May said the family did seek early help — Jobin had previously once overdosed on fentanyl — but rehabilitation was too expensive, and there was nothing available locally.
“He was not some drug addict you would see on the street,” May continued. “He was a good kid, he was a good person, he was a daddy. And he didn’t get the opportunity to be a daddy because fentanyl took that away.”
Proof of the reality fentanyl knows no bounds.
Martina Mireles, who lost her partner Elijah Yepez to fentanyl, was also the first to discover him and administer CPR.
“I lost my soulmate, like we were two peas in a pod, we did not want to be apart from each other,” Mireles said.
May and Mireles are just a couple of the countless families who have lost loved ones to fentanyl. They emphasized a gathering like the one in Oildale on Thursday is much needed.
“We have to raise awareness and have gatherings like we do now and just have the community get together and let people know that it’s killing people and there’s a way out,” Heather Mallory said.
Heather Mallory lost her mom to fentanyl patches in 2012 and also a high school friend to a fentanyl overdose.
“[My mom] had a few slipped discs in her back, and the medication they had given her wasn’t working, and so she told me they had given her fentanyl…” Mallory explained. “That night, she went home and put another patch on, and she never woke up.”
That was Christmas morning.
District 3 Supervisor Jeff Flores said one death from fentanyl is one death too many.
“[Fentanyl] is something that doesn’t respect demographics, doesn’t respect income levels, anyone is at-risk here,” Flores said.
In 2022, Kern saw more than 250 deaths from fentanyl. This year, we’re on track to match that number.
And according to the 2022 Kern Child Death Review report, there was a 40% increase in the number of children who died from fentanyl.
Kern’s homeless population is another victim of the drug.
“We see just a more desperate insanity with fentanyl,” said Tonya Holt, pastoral counselor of Church Without Walls, a nonprofit that assists the unhoused.
Holt estimates for every 100 homeless individuals the church serves per week, 90% deal with substance abuse. She said fentanyl has created a ripple effect in Oildale, such as robberies and break-ins and even addiction and deaths.
“Because of the depth of the drug, how infested it is [in Oildale], brings just a natural darkness and feelings of being left [behind].”
In talking to the homeless population, Holt said she’s realized housing doesn’t solve addiction.
“What they are interested in is a stronger system of care regarding detox and recovery,” Holt said.
She added: “It’s important for people to know we do have leaders out here that truly do care about this issue.”
Which is where lawmakers like Supervisor Flores’ presence is welcomed.
Flores told 17 News Kern County has the budget and resources to tackle the issue, like the over 2,000 free Narcan units throughout Kern’s libraries. Narcan kits were available at the gathering too.
“It’ll take all of us, including families and the people themselves to not indulge in drug use,” Flores said.
He noted 50 tiny homes will open in Oildale in early 2024 and can hopefully help tackle homelessness, mental health struggles, drug addiction and more, all of which are linked, feeding one another.
Again, a focus on awareness and prevention by those who already lost friends and/or family to fentanyl.
“[Sellers] have different names, different catches to take the attention away from what they’re messaging,” Amellia May said. “They even post it on Snapchat that they’ve got this stuff for these kids to come get. These kids don’t realize that they’re playing Russian roulette with their lives.”
Surrounded by a group she described as fellow mothers, May added: “We’ve all lost children. There’s too many numbers here, we just have a very small group of mothers here, and it’s growing too much, too many, too fast.”