As warning to others, LA parents share tragic story about losing son to fentanyl overdose

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- You've likely heard of fentanyl and that it's a huge part of this country's drug crisis, but to fully understand why it's so deadly and why this country's drug epidemic is worse than it's ever been, you have to meet the parents of Alex Gertsch.

When the wind blows, there is both comfort and sadness for Dena and Shane Gertsch.

To speak about their son is agonizing, but they are enduring in order to save others.

"He was the center of our life," Dena said. "He was our only child and just everything was centered around him and trying to make sure he had a good, happy life."

Alex, 25, was a talented musician, a creative and kind soul.

"He had a smile that would light up a room and just kind, compassionate...," Shane cried.

Addiction is a horrible thing. Alex fought it and went to rehab. He was clean for eight months until he had a moment of weakness, his parents shared.

That moment of weakness was the beginning of a torturous education for these grieving parents. It was Alex's own father who found his body - and his cellphone.

"We were able to gain access to his phone, be able to see that our son's searching for the code words where he could find drugs on Craigslist.

Suddenly, at his fingertips, there was entry into that sinister world, no longer hiding in the shadows, but arrogantly out in the open.

Right there, during the interview, Dena plugs in the same codes and up pop the pushers.

Dena read one of the posts, "I'm offering sets and half sets of authentic white china plates. These plates are among the most prized ever distributed in America..."

That was only part of what they learned. The rest came after the autopsy.

"Our son's toxicology report came back with 100 percent fentanyl, nothing else in his system, pure fentanyl," Shane said.

In the DEA's secret lab, forensic chemist Dean Kirby said fentanyl is so potent and inexpensive, counterfeiters mix it in place of other, more expensive drugs. Touching it, breathing it or ingesting a minuscule amount can kill you.

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Take a look at how the DEA is tackling the current drug crisis in the U.S. and how different it's become since the 80s.

"It takes two milligrams enough to kill a person, especially someone who's not tolerant in any way to taking those kinds of medications, so that's very small compared to a dosage of let's say heroin," he said.

And that's what happened to Alex. He wanted heroin, which is 50 times less powerful. Though Craigslist, he found someone named Stixx and texted him.

"You in stock with roofing tar?"

Stixx texted back that he's all out but he does have "china white."

It's likely Alex never knew what he was getting.

Fentanyl is a large part of what is killing 200 people a day in our country. It's produced in China and what's mindboggling is that it's often just mailed to the U.S.

The Gertschs ask the obvious question: Why?

"There seems like sometimes common sense should come into play," Shane said. "If there are all of these packages coming in from China with a similar look, shape and feel, maybe that's where we make an exception."

And Craigslist and social media platforms, why aren't these billion-dollar companies doing more to protect people?

"They will invest the money for algorithms and for data mining to market and sell for profit. What about using some of that same technology or same focus to help with social change," Shane said.

Alex was also a writer. One of his poems is inscribed on a wind chime at their home.

"Sometimes we think that it's Alex, like he's trying to send us a message," Dena shared.

"If he's out there watching us, he wouldn't want us to be sad every day -- it's hard not to," Shane said. "But he would want us to do what we can to potentially, hopefully help some other families from going through what we are going through."

Dena and Shane say the one bright spot in their story is the DEA's fusion task force. Investigators tracked down that dealer named Stixx and he now faces 20 years in prison. But no matter what happens to him, nothing will ease the pain of losing their one and only child, Alex.
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