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Candlelight vigil for opioid overdose victims held in Tehachapi

According to the Cornerstone Center for Counseling and Discipleship in Tehachapi, at least 25 people in Tehachapi alone have died from opioid overdoses since January of 2022.
Tehachapi opioid vigil
Posted at 9:17 PM, Jun 16, 2023

TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KERO) — A candlelight vigil was held Friday, June 16 in the City of Tehachapi to honor the families who have lost a loved one to a fentanyl overdose.

According to the Cornerstone Center for Counseling and Discipleship in Tehachapi, there have been at least 25 people who have died due to a fentanyl overdose since January of 2022 in Tehachapi, with two of them happening just last month.

The stigma surrounding fentanyl overdoses can negatively impact how families mourn their loved ones, so on Friday, Cornerstone hosted a candlelight vigil at Wren's Garden in Tehachapi to allow families to pay their respects peacefully.

Friday's vigil was a way to honor people who have lost their lives due to fentanyl overdoses in Tehachapi. While families mourned, they were also taught how to administer Narcan in case of an emergency.

Event organizers, including Cornerstone Substance Abuse Counselor and Domestic Violence Advocate Veronica Corona, say they hope tis will lower the number of overdoses in the future.

"For years I watched him fight bravely against this disease, but in the end it won. The disease of addiction has robbed my son of his father, me of my friend, and our community of a bright light. I love you, Jake. I miss you," Corona said, speaking of her son's father.

Several speakers volunteered, like Corona, to share their experiences. Corona has lived in Tehachapi all her life. At Cornerstone, it was actually her idea to hold a candlelight vigil. She says the idea came to her after hearing about the 2 most recent fentanyl deaths in Tehachapi.

"I felt that it was a need to get the community together to spread the awareness, for the remembrance of our lost loved ones. I myself have struggled with several losses that we are honoring tonight," said Corona.

Cornerstone President and Founder Joshua Pierce says the more research they did, the more names they found, and they knew that this event was critical for their community.

"As you can see, we have 36 names from just 2 weeks of getting things out of people who have overdosed or died because of alcohol or drug-related incidents," said Pierce.

Pierce says he understands that grieving for someone who has died from fentanyl can have a negative stigma attached to it, and says Friday's vigil was a safe space for everyone.

"The idea for this event is to raise awareness and to help those in the community grieve well and be able to talk about the losses they've had amongst those who've also had similar losses," said Pierce.

Along with being able to speak freely, the event also had a Narcan training booth where people were able to learn how to administer Narcan in case of an emergency.

Corona says, as someone who has struggled with addiction herself, she is proud to have been able to spearhead this event.

"It's empowering to be where I'm at in my sobriety, to be where I'm at in the community, to be able to support others and just be able to do what I do," said Corona.

Event organizers say they hope the vigil left families with a sense of closure, and are working to make this an annual event.

IN-DEPTH: THE REAL COST OF SYNTHETIC OPIOIDS

Data from the California Department of Public Health shows a dramatic increase in deaths from overdose by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in recent years, jumping from 50 in July of 2018 to nearly 450 in July 2020.

CDPH says it's part of a shift in what the department calls a "triple-wave epidemic" of overdose deaths. The first wave of deaths began in 2000 due to prescription opioids like Oxycontin and Vicodin. By 2007, heroin was the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths.

Since 2013, however, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have taken hold and have begun claiming a higher share of opioid overdose deaths year by year.