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A ‘new reality’: Could fentanyl’s toxicity kill a child with just a touch?

A Santa Rosa police investigation into whether fentanyl caused a toddler’s death earlier this week reflects growing concern that opioid users could expose young children to the dangerous drug, experts say.

They emphasize that fentanyl’s toxic potency is so dangerous that just touching a small amount of it — on a table or in a piece of clothing — could be lethal to a baby or a small child.

“That’s the new reality and it’s disturbing,” said Jesse Collins, a counseling supervisor at Santa Rosa Treatment Program, where clients are treated for fentanyl use.

Santa Rosa police are investigating the source of the opioids they discovered Monday morning at a Sonoma Avenue apartment, where a mother reported her 15-month-old daughter was unresponsive.

Paramedics rushed the child to a hospital where she later died. She was identified as Charlotte Frostick, Sgt. Chris Mahurin said Tuesday.

Detectives found 2½ to 3 grams of suspected fentanyl and paraphernalia in a bedroom, including on the bed Charlotte shared with her parents, police said.

“That’s a lot,” said Mahurin, who added anything more than 2 milligrams is considered lethal.

Charlotte’s parents, Evan Taylor Frostick, 26, and Madison Taylor Bernard, 23, were arrested Monday on suspicion of cruelty to a child likely to produce great bodily injury or death.

“This is one of the extreme examples of what we are currently concerned about with this epidemic of opioid use,” Mahurin said. “It’s loved ones. It’s children. It’s kids in the park. Those are the concerns we worry about.”

An autopsy, including toxicology testing, has been scheduled for this week, and police said they may seek additional charges based on the results.

There was no evidence the couple was selling fentanyl and investigators are trying to determine how they got the drugs, Mahurin added.

Nick Honey, director of the Sonoma County Department of Human Services’ Family, Youth and Children Division, said he couldn’t comment on whether his agency was familiar with the couple.

He agreed, though, that concerns about household fentanyl use have been a recurring issue lately.

“It’s heartbreaking. In terms of our work, it is something we see often. The issue has been exacerbated by the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Honey said.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, hosted a town hall meeting last month to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl, and he reiterated his stance on Tuesday.

“Too many families across the state know the tragedy of losing a loved one to fentanyl,” he said in a statement. “And children are especially vulnerable. We need to combat this fentanyl scourge, going after suppliers but also educating people on its dangers.”

Fentanyl’s toxicity makes it 100 times more powerful than morphine — even a trace amount of it can be deadly. It can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled when in a powder form.

Since 2017, Sonoma County has tracked more than 500 overdose deaths, including 173 in 2020. At least 70% of those deaths were linked to fentanyl, according to county data.

From February 2017 to December 2017, the opioid was present in 14 overdoses in Sonoma County. In 2018, fentanyl deaths rose to 31 and hovered around that same number in 2019.

In 2020, 111 deaths were linked to fentanyl, according to county records.

Experts referenced the September 2019 deaths of Patrick O’Neill, 29, and his 13-month-old son, Liam, who were discovered at their Santa Rosa home on Darek Drive.

Investigators say O’Neill used fentanyl with friends before heading home with his son.

Liam’s mother, Emily Guillory of Petaluma, said she believes her son crawled out of bed that night and ingested fentanyl he found on the floor.

Collins, with Santa Rosa Treatment Program, stressed that third parties, such as friends or family members, need to be cognizant and report families with children who may be exposed to fentanyl.

“Unfortunately, now it makes sense to talk about these things,” Collins said.

Frostick and Bernard, whom Mahurin described as boyfriend and girlfriend, remained in custody Tuesday at the Sonoma County jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

They were scheduled to appear in Sonoma County Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear if they have attorneys.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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