BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A few years ago, Bakersfield mother Elizabeth Guillen began to notice her son’s behavior changing in ways that were much more severe than normal high school-boy moods; oversleeping and being tired, missing school and being withdrawn with no desire to function in daily activities and constantly being on his phone. Then the next day he would be back to normal.
And one day she found rolled up dollar bills in his room, confirming her worst suspicions: He was using fentanyl.
“He was a good person,” Elizabeth Guillen said of her son Christopher Estrada, who died recently at age 21 of a fentanyl overdose, M30 pills to be specific.
Estrada has actually died twice, Guillen said: once during an overdose at a friend’s house, from which paramedics were able to revive him, and the second time when he didn’t come back.
“He wasn’t the type of person who would harm someone or steal or anything like that,” Guillen told 17 News. “He had goals in his life. He loved his family, a good friend who would give the shirt off his back to help anybody.”
“It was the drugs that made him act different,” Guillen added.
Estrada attended catholic school at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in east Bakersfield and later attended South High School where he was introduced to the deadly opioid. Guillen said around the time Estrada was in high school, fentanyl use and the presence of pills in their community was becoming commonplace–and very easy to get.
During his time at South High, Guillen recalled her son being expelled after getting caught under the influence on campus.
“Why are these kids being found doing and selling these drugs or under the influence in schools?” Guillen said. “Why isn’t there anything in place to help them?”
Guillen checked her son into a local rehab center for a month to get clean. His stay at the retreat helped only for so long before reality set in.
“His frustration was that he would say, ‘Mom I left one drug, and they send me home with a bag full of drugs,'” Guillen said.
Estrada walked away from the sober living center with five different medications to help treat depression and sleepless nights including suboxane to decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms and reduce a patient’s dependence on opioids, Guillen said.
“Why am I doing these [four other] drugs if I only need one [suboxone]?” Guillen told 17 News her son said to her. “He hated his life; said he wanted to die.”
Estrada eventually relapsed which prompted his mother to seek more desperate measures. Guillen travelled to Guadalajara, Mexico, to check her son into a rehab clinic.
Within a week and a half, Estrada was off all medication and began his road to recovery. He stayed clean for six months and on the seventh month, returned home to Bakersfield.
After returning, a family member in their home contracted Covid and quarantined for a week and a half, which Guillen said is what might have made him depressed again.
“Which lead him to use again,” Guillen said.
Estrada was working as a landscaper for a family friend at that time when his employer told Guillen about her son’s odd behavior at work. He began to ask for advances on his pay-check, would often work under the influence and totaled a few cars in the process.
It turned out during this time period Estrada was using up to 20 pills a day.
“He wouldn’t remember what he would do. It was like being drunk; 10-times worse. He would work his butt off and not have a dollar to his name” Guillen said.
As many schools see a rise of fentanyl use on campus, Guillen wants to help parents spot the warning signs of opioid use.
Guillen advises parents to pay attention to their kids, communicate with them and monitor their behavior.
“Look for help immediately. Don’t wait for it to go away. It’s only going to get worse,” Guillen said. “My son was taking 20 pills a day and all it took was one pill to take his life.”
“You can’t yell at your kids for this to go away. It’s an awful addiction that they don’t care about at the time. They don’t care about their parents, they don’t care about hurting anybody. All they care about is getting the next pill,” Guillen said.
In the midst of increased fentanyl overdoses at several Bakersfield high school campuses, Guillen said she wants her son’s memory to serve as an example to other families experiencing similar circumstances.
“If there is anything I can let people know, is to let my son’s story be heard and if I can help one person, that‘s what I want to do; so his death isn’t for nothing,” Guillen said.