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Fentanyl crisis: San Tan Valley mother shares daughter's tragic story to help others

"She had been having back pains and I know all a person needs to do is respond to a SnapChat and you can have anything delivered right to you, just like DoorDash," Misty Terrigino said. "I mean, it happened at home and what's even more alarming is that I'm a registered nurse."

San Tan Valley teenager Kaylie Tallant would have turned 18 on Dec. 17, but her decision to take a Percocet she didn't know was laced with fentanyl killed her on April 12, 2021.

Her mother, Misty Terrigino, believes she bought the opioid from someone she knew on a social media platform.

"Kaylie had been having back pains and I know all a person needs to do is respond to a SnapChat and you can have anything delivered right to you, just like DoorDash," she said. "I mean, it happened at home and what's even more alarming is that I'm a registered nurse.

"We were close. We talked like normal that night and just before 9:30, Kaylie said she was going to go upstairs and do homework," Terrigino continued. "She gave me a kiss and said 'I love you,' and then I went to bed."

The next morning, Terrigino said she awoke and texted "Are you up?" to her daughter with no response.

"It was early, so I didn't think anything of it and went to an appointment," she said. "I came home about 11:30 that morning and wanted Kaylie to go shopping with me so I texted her again, but no response."

Terrigino said when she went upstairs to Kaylie's bedroom her door was locked so she started pounding on it, but there still was no response.

"My son used a screwdriver to open the door and Kaylie was laying on her stomach in her bed with her laptop open and we could tell it was far too late and we called 911," Terrigino said, adding that she never thought anything about her daughter sleeping in after doing homework late at night for her online classes at San Tan Foothills High School. "I don't know if this was something she had been taking, but I know she was experimenting. It was evident she was using and something terrible had happened. I think about how it only took one pill to kill her and that it's so important that others understand and don't have to go through what I've been going through."

Terrigino, who was an intensive care unit nurse with Banner Baywood, now works as a nurse at the Florence Detention Center for Arizona Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security. She said she sees firsthand how easy it is for fentanyl-laced drugs to cross our borders in all forms, from pills to patches.

"Fentanyl is just flowing through our borders and it's terrifying because these transactions are being done by kids on SnapChat so there is no trace of the transactions," she said. "They are selling on social media to build up their clientele and if something happens they just delete and start fresh. With minors there should be more due diligence on who sold to them because these deaths are just considered overdoses and then it's a closed case. That's what happened to us here with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.

"So my mission is raising awareness because these (fentanyl overdose) numbers are skyrocketing and it can happen to adults, too. There is beer, marijuana, vape pens and other products out there being laced with fentanyl," Terrigino continued. "She was my only daughter and we were close. I'm a nurse and it still happened to us. I know her back was hurting and I gave her ibuprofen for it, but her friend said she had bought opioids before through social media, seeking relief. I was surprised, she was a straight A student who was always involved in things, a cheerleader who knew what she wanted to do. Sure, she could be a wild child, but she wanted to go to Penn State after graduation. Kaylie was fascinated with psychology and was interested in law."

Terrigino noted the importance of parents checking their child's social media and knowing their passwords to not only their social media accounts but for their phones and laptops.

"The police couldn't get into Kaylie's phone and I can't get into her laptop because I don't know any of her passwords. Apple won't open them unless there is a police warrant, but you don't get one of those with overdoses," she said. "Be in their business and know their passwords or codes even if they're staying home like my daughter. I was an involved parent to the point that it was unhealthy how protective I was of her and it still didn't stop it from happening."

On May 19, 2021, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation to exclude fentanyl testing products from the list of illegal drug paraphernalia and Terrigino is left wondering what would have been.

"What if my daughter would have had that and tested the pill? I don't want her taking it, but I'd do anything to have her home safe with me now," she said. "Yes, it's an overdose, but you're poisoning someone if they don't know what it is. People don't want to talk about it. I didn't notice anything looked off, but looking back she was moody, but she was 17. Sometimes, the really hard stuff is what you have to share to make things better. If I help one person, for me I've done some justice for Kaylie."

International Overdose Awareness Day

International Overdose Awareness Day is observed on Aug. 31 every year and is used to draw attention to the problem of overdose and to reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths. It’s also a day that’s used to acknowledge the grief felt by friends and family members when people overdose. The official colors for this day are purple and gray.

To honor her daughter's memory, Terrigino organized a memorial garden for International Overdose Awareness Day in August 2021 at Founders' Park that included 2,629 ribbons in memory of every person who has overdosed from any type of drug. She said the same event will happen again on the Saturday closest to Aug. 31 this summer at the Queen Creek park, but promises a bigger event with more vendors and resources.

"It's so important, we had 200 to 300 people come out and we did test strip training and I met so many parents who, like me, have lost a child to an overdose," Terrigino said. "We have to let people know that overdose looks different than what it used to be. We must eliminate these deaths from one pill that your child thought was something else and it was laced with fentanyl.

"Our goal is to get NARCAN (a prescription nasal spray used for the treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose emergency with signs of breathing problems and severe sleepiness or not being able to respond) into every high school," Terrigino said. "I spoke with a mom who was shocked that her child ingested a ritalin laced with fentanyl. What these kids are buying and getting from their friends is deadly. In many cases, the friends don't know they are selling fentanyl-laced opioids."

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approved for treating severe pain, such as advanced cancer. However, illicitly manufactured fentanyl is on the streets in Arizona and increasing at an alarming rate. These pills are extremely dangerous. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration data demonstrates that two out of every five counterfeit pills contain enough fentanyl to kill a person.

This devastating issue is one that impacts a growing number of families and the Queen Creek Unified School District recently asked parents to take the time to review and share important information with their teens and young adults about illicitly manufactured fentanyl. They emphasized telling students to only take pills prescribed by their doctor or provided by their parents. "One pill can kill. Talking with your children about the dangers of fentanyl can truly save a life," QCUSD posted on its website.

"At our event, two girls came up to our table and took our handouts and thanked us," Terrigino said. "The girls said, 'There were four of us and now there's only two of us,' and that broke my heart. They said their 16-year-old friends had nowhere to go when they got hooked on fentanyl-laced opioids. It's stronger than morphine." 

The two poison centers of Arizona have seen a significant increase in poisonings related to fentanyl from illicit M30 tablets. These counterfeit pills are very dangerous and can be so toxic they cause death.

“Fentanyl is the most common adulterant (substance) in almost all street drugs in our community right now, and even in very small amounts can be fatal,” said Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center. “We are working with the state and county health departments to warn Arizonans of the dangers of these drugs.”

Recent seizures by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) included millions of fentanyl pills coming into Arizona. Some states have reported cases of fentanyl in vaping pens resulting in overdose. New substances such as xylazine (a sedative primarily used in veterinary medicine) are also making their way into these illicit drugs. Roughly half of the M30s seized by the DEA agents recently were shown to contain lethal amounts of fentanyl.

“More than five Arizonans are dying per day from opioid overdoses and fentanyl is the leading cause,” said Steve Dudley, PharmD, DABAT, managing director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center. “Now more than ever, we need to promote harm-reduction strategies to prevent these overdoses, and that’s what we aim to do with the OAR Line.”

The Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line, or OAR, can provide free assistance 24/7 for the public and health care professionals at 1-888-688-4222.

Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix has an opioid use disorder treatment program called “Banner University LINK,” through which the emergency department provides naloxone – a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose – without a prescription to a caretaker, friend or loved one of patients who have been admitted for a drug overdose. 

If you or a loved one believe there has been exposure to any poison, medication or chemical, call the poison center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. The poison centers can assist in evaluating and managing the issue, and help determine if it is necessary to seek additional medical attention.

The poison and drug information center at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix provides free and confidential poison and drug information to the public and health care professionals. The hotlines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They serve all of Arizona and are part of 55 centers across the nation that are accredited by American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Terrigino said she can't emphasize how important it is for parents to talk with their kids about this problem.

"What if Kaylie took it and was afraid she'd be in trouble? No kid wants to say they're not feeling right to their parents and that haunts me," she said. "I might have been upset, but I would have gotten her any help needed. So every parent needs to know this is out there and we need to communicate with our children and help them make informed decisions. I'm still in shock and can't believe this has happened to me."

For more information about how to talk to your children about the dangers of fentanyl-laced drugs, visit the Talk Now AZ website.