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Forever 15: Fentanyl, and the opioid crisis , hit home in Claremont – PART 1

The Opioid Crisis Hits Home in Claremont

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, Karie Krouse hosted a memorial service for her daughter Chloe Kreutzer, now forever 15, above. The rising Claremont High School sophomore died June 1 of a suspected drug overdose.

Her friends say a single fentanyl-laced counterfeit Percocet pill was the cause, one she obtained from a 2021 CHS graduate.

The results of a toxicology report of a second pill found in her backpack by officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s San Dimas substation, the city in which Chloe died, are pending. An investigation into her death is also underway, police say.

The news hit Claremont hard. Chloe was by all accounts a kid who wasn’t a regular drug user. She had a lively, supportive group of friends who are still mourning today.

But though her death jolted this leafy suburban college town, it was by no means an aberration.

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According to information obtained from various sources, including well respected drug counselors and peers, between five and nine then current or recently former high school students from Claremont have died from both prescription and non-prescription opioid drug overdoses over the last five years.

That number, while shocking, is directly in line with statistics that have for the past five years been sounding a national alarm.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that 2020 was the deadliest year on record for opioid overdose deaths, with an astonishing 93,331 Americans dying from both prescription and illicit opioids. That provisional number, which will no doubt increase once the final tally is in, was up nearly 30 percent from the previous year’s total. That jump was also a record for the highest year-to-year increase since the CDC began compiling opioid overdose statistics in 1999.

One stat was particularly telling among the those detailed in the CDC’s report: deaths attributed to synthetic fentanyl—the massively potent opioid painkiller 100 times stronger than heroin—were higher in 2020 than ever recorded.

And multiple sources say the use and availability of fentanyl, which can be mixed with heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, or any illicitly produced pill, is skyrocketing among young people.

“These are all being made in motels on Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach and Buena Park,” said Claremont resident Bob Forrest, himself a former heroin addict turned renowned drug recovery counselor, television personality (“Celebrity Rehab”), revered musician (Thelonious Monster), and the subject of the 2011 documentary film, “Bob and the Monster.”

“They get an ounce of pure fentanyl, and they start diluting it and they make the pills from them from one of these little pill things you can buy on eBay or Amazon. And nobody really knows what they’re doing. And the mixing with cocaine: How much are you mixing? And what part of that mixture has a significant amount of fentanyl, and what part has no fentanyl in it?

“What I’m saying is it’s just the wild west.”

It’s a crapshoot

Prescription fentanyl was marketed to treat severe or chronic pain. But as they do, folks figured out how to abuse the powerful painkiller fairly early on.

Then a black market sprung up for illicitly produced synthetic fentanyl, and the dosages, which were no longer being overseen by chemists or scientists, were suddenly all over the map.

Soon thereafter opioid users began dying in alarming numbers.

“This stuff that people are getting from the illicit market is just like, whatever,” Mr. Forrest said. “It’s a crapshoot what you get. The reason why we’re having so much death now from this fentanyl is a pharmaceutical company created a drug for abuse for the public—there’s no doubt they did that—and [now it’s] just mom and pop kid’s shops in motels cutting up drugs.”

For decades the most feared street drug was heroin. And while it’s certainly true heroin is inherently dangerous and highly addictive, today’s drug of choice, fentanyl, makes it look relatively quaint.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest drug on earth,” Mr. Forrest said. “A match tip [-sized dose] can kill you, the tiniest little amount. And I’m pretty open minded about drugs. I guarantee you, there isn’t a mistake breaking up a brick of pot can do that’s going to kill anybody. Nor probably cocaine. I’ll get crucified for that, but the truth is nor probably cocaine. When you get to heroin there’s a risk, when you get to meth there’s a risk. But it’s like a thousand-fold risk with fentanyl.”

Gone with the first pill

Chloe wasn’t the kind of kid who would take that risk.

“I think it’s really important, even people that have kids like me, that you don’t think would ever, ever, ever touch anything, to have conversations with these kids,” said Chloe’s mother, Karie Krouse. “Because all it takes is that one single time and this could happen. This is not one that you could play around with and find out that they’ve been taking it for three weeks or something. They can be gone with the first pill.”

Readily available, even on Snapchat

Multiple kids told the COURIER street drugs laced with fentanyl—pills, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, among others—are readily available throughout Claremont, with dealers operating openly on Instagram and Snapchat. They also said that prior to the pandemic, opioids were easily obtained on the Claremont High School campus.

“There were definitely certain people you could ask and they would know” how to get fentanyl on the CHS campus, said Gabby, a recovering fentanyl addict who dropped out of CHS in 2020, at the outset of her senior year. “So like, it was pretty easy.”

Now 20, she’s unclear on when she first took something laced with fentanyl. She said it could have been as early as her freshman year at CHS.

“At first it was [fake] Xanax,” she said.

She knew legitimate, pharmaceutical Xanax wasn’t available at the time, and the pill was illicit. She took it anyway.

“I still did it, because that’s what an addict mind does. You just do what’s there.”

Gabby spoke to the COURIER as she was about to “graduate” from a just completed 16-day detox program at Stillwater Treatment Center in Porter Ranch.

During her three year addiction to fentanyl, she’s been to seven rehab facilities.

Over that time she said she’s lost at least four friends—all of them Claremont kids—to opioid overdoses.

Another close friend nearly died as well, surviving only because Gabby performed CPR, a skill she learned from her brother, an EMT.

“It just goes on, honestly,” Gabby said. “It’s horrible. It’s just more and more people. I could tell you there’s probably been another death and I’m just [in a rehab facility] and not aware of it. That’s what’s going on right now. People don’t realize how serious [fentanyl] is. You never know that it’s going to be you next, and that’s the scariest thing. People need to understand that just because it hasn’t killed you right now doesn’t mean it’s [not] going to kill you yet.

“My friends that I went to elementary school with at Condit are now dead, because of this drug.”

A public memorial service for Chloe Kreutzer was held Saturday, July 24 at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 Harrison Ave. See the photos below. Photos by Andrew Alonzo and Peter Weinberger.

This is Part 1 of the three-part series “Forever 15”. Next week: What are the schools doing?

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