Life as he knew it ended for Matt Capelouto two days earlier than Christmas in 2019, when he discovered his 20-year-old daughter, Alexandra, lifeless in her childhood bed room in Temecula, California. Rage overtook grief when authorities dominated her dying an accident.

The school sophomore, residence for the vacations, had taken half a capsule she purchased from a seller on Snapchat. It turned out to be fentanyl, the highly effective artificial opioid that helped drive drug overdose deaths within the U.S. to greater than 100,000 final 12 months. “She was poisoned, and nothing was going to occur to the one who did it,” he mentioned. “I couldn’t stand for that.”

The self-described political average mentioned the expertise made him cynical about California’s reluctance to impose harsh sentences for drug offenses.

So Capelouto, the suburban dad who as soon as devoted all his time to operating his print store and elevating his 4 daughters, launched a gaggle referred to as Drug Induced Homicide and traveled from his residence to Sacramento in April to foyer for laws generally known as “Alexandra’s Law.” The invoice would have made it simpler for California prosecutors to convict the sellers of deadly medication on murder fees.

Capelouto’s group is a part of a nationwide motion of parents-turned-activists combating the more and more lethal drug disaster — and they’re difficult California’s doctrine that medication must be handled as a well being drawback moderately than prosecuted by the prison justice system. Modeled after Moms Against Drunk Driving, which sparked a motion within the Eighties, organizations equivalent to Victims of Illicit Drugs and the Alexander Neville Foundation search to boost public consciousness and affect drug coverage. One group, Mothers Against Drug Deaths, pays homage to MADD by borrowing its acronym.

The teams press state lawmakers for stricter penalties for sellers and foyer expertise corporations to permit mother and father to watch their children’ communications on social media. They erect billboards blaming politicians for the drug disaster and stage “die-in” protests in opposition to open-air drug markets in Los Angeles’ Venice Beach and San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.

“This drawback goes to be solved by the grassroots efforts of affected households,” mentioned Ed Ternan, who runs the Pasadena-based group Song for Charlie, which focuses on educating youths in regards to the risks of counterfeit capsules.

Many mother and father mobilized after a wave of deaths that started in 2019. Typically, they concerned highschool or school college students who thought they have been taking OxyContin or Xanax bought on social media however have been really ingesting capsules containing fentanyl. The drug first hit the East Coast practically a decade in the past, largely by way of the heroin provide, however Mexican drug cartels have since launched counterfeit prescription drugs laced with the extremely addictive powder into California and Arizona to hook new clients.

In lots of circumstances, the overdose victims are straight-A college students or star athletes from the suburbs, giving rise to a military of educated, engaged mother and father who’re difficult the silence and stigma surrounding drug deaths.

Ternan knew virtually nothing about fentanyl when his 22-year-old son, Charlie, died in his fraternity home bed room at Santa Clara College a number of weeks earlier than he was scheduled to graduate in spring 2020. Kin decided from messages on Charlie’s telephone that he had supposed to purchase Percocet, a prescription painkiller he had taken after again surgical procedure two years earlier. First responders mentioned the strapping 6-foot-2-inch, 235-pound school senior died inside a half-hour of swallowing the counterfeit capsule.

Ternan found a string of comparable deaths in different Silicon Valley communities. In 2021, 106 folks died from fentanyl overdoses in Santa Clara County — up from 11 in 2018. The deaths have included a Stanford University sophomore and a 12-year-old girl in San Jose.

With the assistance of two executives at Google who lost sons to capsules laced with fentanyl, Ternan persuaded Fb, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and different social media platforms to donate advert house to warnings about counterfeit medication. Stress from mum or dad teams has additionally spurred Santa Monica-based Snapchat to deploy tools to detect drug gross sales and restrictions designed to make it tougher for sellers to focus on minors.

Because the earliest days of the opioid epidemic, the households of individuals coping with dependancy and of those that have died from overdoses have supported each other in church basements and on on-line platforms from Florida to Oregon. Now, the family-run organizations which have sprung from California’s fentanyl disaster have begun cooperating with each other.

A community of mum or dad teams and different activists that calls itself the California Peace Coalition was fashioned not too long ago by Michael Shellenberger, a Berkeley creator and activist running for governor as an independent.

One critic of California’s progressive insurance policies is Jacqui Berlinn, a authorized processing clerk within the East Bay who began Mothers Against Drug Deaths — a reputation she selected as an homage to the achievements of Moms Against Drunk Driving founder Candace Lightner, a Truthful Oaks housewife whose 13-year-old daughter was killed in 1980 by a driver below the affect.

Berlinn’s son, Corey, 30, has used heroin and fentanyl for seven years on the streets of San Francisco. “My son isn’t trash,” Berlinn mentioned. “He deserves to get his life again.”

She believes the town’s determination to not cost sellers has allowed open-air narcotics markets to flourish in sure neighborhoods and have enabled drug use, moderately than inspired folks coping with dependancy to get assist.

In April, Berlinn’s group spent $25,000 to erect a billboard within the upscale retail district of Union Sq.. Over a glowing evening shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, the signal says: “Well-known the world over for our brains, magnificence and, now, dirt-cheap fentanyl.”

This month, the group put in an indication alongside Interstate 80 heading into Sacramento that targets Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. Enjoying off signage used at parks, the billboard contains a “Welcome to Camp Fentanyl” greeting in opposition to a shot of a homeless encampment. The group mentioned a mobile billboard may also circle the state Capitol for an undisclosed interval.

Moms Against Drug Deaths is looking for extra choices and funding for drug therapy and extra arrests of sellers. The latter would mark a pointy flip from the gospel of “hurt discount,” a public well being method embraced by state and native officers that holds abstention as unrealistic. As an alternative, this technique requires serving to folks coping with dependancy keep protected by way of issues like needle exchanges and naloxone, an overdose reversal drug that has saved 1000’s of lives.

The mum or dad motion echoes recall efforts taking place in two main cities. Progressive prosecutors Chesa Boudin in San Francisco and George Gascón in Los Angeles have veered away from throwing street dealers in jail, which they name a pointless recreation of whack-a-mole that punishes poor minorities.

California lawmakers are cautious of repeating the errors of the war-on-drugs period and have blocked a collection of payments that might stiffen penalties for fentanyl gross sales. They are saying the laws would accomplish little other than packing the state’s jails and prisons.

“We will throw folks in jail for a thousand years, and it received’t hold folks from doing medication, and it received’t hold them from dying,” mentioned state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). “We all know that from expertise.”

Some mother and father agree. After watching her son cycle out and in of the prison justice system on minor drug fees within the Nineteen Nineties, Gretchen Burns Bergman grew to become satisfied that charging folks with minor drug offenses, equivalent to possession, is counterproductive.

In 1999, the San Diego style present producer began A New Path, which has advocated for marijuana legalization and an finish to California’s “three strikes” legislation. A decade later, she fashioned Moms United to End the War on Drugs, a nationwide coalition. In the present day, each her sons have recovered from heroin dependancy with the assistance of “compassionate assist” and work as drug counselors, she mentioned.

“I’ve been at this lengthy sufficient to see the pendulum swing,” Burns Bergman mentioned of the general public’s shifting views on legislation enforcement.

In December, Brandon McDowell, 22, of Riverside, was arrested and accused of selling the pill that killed Matt Capelouto’s daughter. McDowell was charged with distributing fentanyl leading to dying, which carries a compulsory minimal sentence of 20 years in federal jail.

Though Alexandra’s Legislation didn’t make it out of committee, Capelouto identified that years of lobbying went into the passage of stricter drunken driving legal guidelines. He vowed not to surrender on the invoice named for his daughter, who wrote poetry and cherished David Bowie.

“I’m going to be again in entrance of them,” he mentioned, “yearly.”

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially impartial service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Rachel Scheier: @rachelscheier