GIANCARLO Jigamian only took one small pill when he died of a drug overdose at the young age of 20.
But what was lurking inside that tablet was much deadlier than he knew.
Now his mother, Milli Militi-Jigamian, based in Seattle, Washington, is warning other at-risk teens and young adults of this hidden killer.
Giancarlo struggled with drug addiction throughout his teenage years, Milli told The U.S. Sun.
But at age 20, he had been clean for months, living in a rehab facility.
Then on February 9th, 2020, he took a pill like he'd done many times before.
What he didn't know was that the substance was laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
According to a Washington Post investigation, fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 49.
And like Giancarlo, those who die from fentanyl rarely know they were ingesting it in the first place.
When Milli's son was 12 years old, he began battling depression and anxiety.
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While therapy relieved a bit of his struggle from ages 16 to 18, Giancarlo was surrounded by opportunities to experiment with drugs as he got older – and he did.
In 2018, his mother and her ex-husband Harry found out he was using Xanax and Percocet to numb his pain.
Their response involved sending him on a three-month therapeutic camping trip to Utah.
But a doctor on the expedition found a high count of white blood cells in Giancarlo, which he presumed to be cancer.
A misdiagnosis of leukemia prevented the struggling teen from embarking on the therapy excursion.
Milli said: "They made him come home, despite us begging them not to for fear we could not keep him safe."
Three weeks later, an oncologist cleared him. His abundant amount of white blood cells wasn't cancer. Their cause was stress and drug use.
At that point, Giancarlo was still using, and he overdosed.
"He survived that one – barely," Milli admitted.
Giancarlo's first overdose opened his parents' eyes to the dangers of fentanyl, something they hadn't known or thought of prior.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is used to treat severe pain, but the drug is also illegally manufactured and illicitly added to other substances like heroin and cocaine, to make drugs cheaper and more addictive.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the CDC — which makes it incredibly easy to overdose on.
Seeking more serious treatment, Giancarlo was sent to a 30-day rehabilitation program inside a hospital.
Unfortunately, Giancarlo relapsed again just weeks after he returned home.
The 20-year-old was sent to a three-month rehab facility and then moved to a sober-living house.
Giancarlo had been six months clean before he passed away.
"He was doing well, looking forward to the future and coming back home to live with his family, but he had a momentary relapse while in the facility," his mother explained.
Milli recalled Giancarlo seeming hopeful on the phone with his brother Dante the day he died. Those would be his last words.
It took one pill, one with a deadly amount of fentanyl, to kill him a month before he was set to start a new life.
Now, Milli is taking action following her son's sudden death – but not the same way others have been.
Milli founded Fentanyl United Crisis Coalition (FUCC), a nonprofit organization pending certification to educate at-risk youth and young adults on protecting themselves from this deadly substance.
"I wanted to attack the thing to blame, which was fentanyl,” she proclaimed.
Though similar organizations promote abstinence from drugs, she doesn't want hers to take a "just say no" stance on substance use.
She doesn't want to sugar-coat the issue. Kids and young adults are out there, and they're using, Milli said.
For her, the question to tackle is how people who are using drugs can do so in a somewhat safer manner.
Milli believes telling children to say no to substance use is more effective than trying to enforce that amongst adolescents.
And the FUCC advisors, Ben Westhoff, fentanyl expert and investigative reporter; Candice Lightner, Founder and President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving; Brad Finegood, Strategic Advisor at Public Health; and Ric Militi, CEO of InnoVision Marketing Group, agree.
"I think politics aside, viewpoints aside, philosophy aside, kids are out there, and they’re dying. All I want to do through FUCC is get to them before they die," Milli noted.
The mission of FUCC appeals to the at-risk demographic of teens and young adults with steps toward harm reduction for themselves and their peers.
FUCC's marketing adds edginess to emphasize the severity of the fentanyl infestation and the dangers of the drug.
An angry face is pictured as part of the organization's logo.
The face is neither man nor woman, and it's screaming.
On the image, Milli disclosed: "I wanted to convey anger, first and foremost because I’m angry. I want it to be loud. I want it to ruffle some feathers."
"I want my messaging to reach this younger group in a way that meets them where they’re at, not to preach to them or shame them or scare them," Milli added.
"FUCC is here to help them become empowered and knowledgeable to prevent their overdose.
"If they’re going to use, use smartly and know how to keep yourself and your friends alive."
Not only was Milli's 19-year-old son Dante her backbone throughout the year following Giancarlo's death, but he was also a motivation to start the organization.
She admits: "Dante is what kept me going. He's what kept me alive that first year."
Milli and Dante grasped onto each other only to find hope, determination, and purpose through her idea for FUCC.
With Dante being the prime age demographic FUCC targets, the college student has assumed the role of "youth advisor."
Milli's organization is a family effort, as her brother is on the advisory board and the head of social media marketing.
FUCC is beginning its efforts at the grassroots level, working to push initiatives and provide education in smaller communities such as college campuses.
Milli has been working on a harm reduction presentation for students as she's had many come to her seeking help for their friends.
She said: "I want to help give them the tools they need, the materials they need, and the resources they can then share with their school."
While her current strategy for the organization isn't as focused on a larger scale, she still is.
Milli is an advocate for Washington Recovery Alliance on policy relating to fentanyl.
She's spoken on the importance of changing legislation around potentially life saving testing strips.
In most states, fentanyl test strips — which can determine if a drug is laced with fentanyl — are illegal.
However, some areas allow nonprofit organizations involved in prevention to distribute them.
One of FUCC's goals is to have full access to these strips and Narcan in schools and households throughout the country.
The organization is working with other successful programs to hopefully one day make this happen.
"It's going to take time to really effect change, but we have to start somewhere. I’m picking the low-hanging fruit now because it’s just me, and I'm working another full-time job,” Milli admitted.
The 59-year-old mother feels as though this organization "found her."
It's not that her grieving period has ended, or ever will, but her grieving is now transforming into this urgency to honor her son through societal impact.
Milli explained: “When you lose your child, you can disappear into a rabbit hole, or you can somehow be driven to make change.
"I’ve accepted I’m going to live with this pain the rest of my life, but doing this organization somehow makes sense to me to be in this world.
"It allows me to keep loving my son and being his mother.
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“Fentanyl United Crisis Coalition, I say, is his doing.
"Anyone who is helped by this organization, it’s going to be because of Giancarlo.”
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