The 17-year-old Gabe thought he was taking OxyContin to try and help him sleep. What he was given was a fentanyl-laced street drug called M30.
Gabe died in Seattle on Sept. 29, but the funeral was in Minneapolis on Oct. 4. He lived most of his life in Minneapolis, and both his mother and stepfather grew up in Minneapolis. The family has started the Gabe Lilienthal Foundation to help educate about the dangers of these drugs to middle and high school students.
“So it’s not that Gabe overdosed,” his stepfather Jed Kaufman said. “He was poisoned to death. It was murder. That’s how we need to change the vernacular, the jargon, the talk, the laws.”
Deborah Savran, Gabe’s mother, said the immediate goal is to educate and “help to wake up parents” about what’s going on in the streets.
“These street drugs that are available today are presented as one thing and laced with other things,” she said. “If there’s one parent and one kid who gets some more education so that maybe they would like to look at the offered something like that and be like, ‘Oh, wait a second, that might kill me.’
“The same night as Gabe, another same age kid died in a suburb of Seattle from the same thing. The medical examiner says he sees it every single day, I think six people in a week also died from fentanyl-laced pills that they bought.”
Savran and Kaufman don’t know how Gabe acquired the pills; Savran said they know that Gabe got together with someone from school and whether that person sold them to Gabe or they went together to buy them, they don’t know.
The pill is stamped with the marking M30. Kaufman, a surgeon who routinely administers fentanyl in the operating room, explained that it is a synthetic drug that is dosed in micrograms, which is 1/1-millionth of a gram, while OxyContin or oxycodone are dosed in milligrams – 1/1000th of a gram. That makes the fentanyl 1,000 times more powerful.
“If you a dose a milligram difference, you get a little sleepy.” Kaufman said. “You dose a microgram difference, and it’s so much more powerful: 30-to-50 times more powerful than heroin.”
‘This Isn’t Addiction; It’s Anxiety’
Savran and Kaufman talked openly about Gabe’s battle with anxiety. The said he was learning to manage it through therapy and medication, but had seemingly overcome many challenges that he was facing.
“He was stepping up in responsibility,” Savran said. “He was working, he was getting straight A’s, he, he was really excited about his future and, you know, he was struggling with insomnia and anxiety, but he was meeting that and probably just took this because he thought it was going to give him a really good night’s sleep, you know?”
Kaufman said anxiety is becoming an epidemic, and it’s leading to people seeking out opioids.
“This isn’t addiction; it’s anxiety and how we treat each other,” he said. “It’s big pharma selling us and doctors pills and us looking for an easy out instead of healing our lives and helping each other heal. It’s climate change and loss of hope. It’s the big picture and this is a symptom.
“People are now turning to, instead of having a couple of beers, now they’re taking opioids, and they’re fake. And then that’s being flooded in our market, because they’re being made in labs, and they’re being made on a pill press. This is just the tip of the iceberg. So if anxiety is an epidemic, how do we get to the root of that?”
Said Savran, “I mean, I really do feel like it comes down to becoming more honest about how you’re actually living every day, just how deeply connected are we really, with our heart, with each other?”
The Foundation’s Foundation
Savran said she spoke spontaneously at Gabe’s funeral at Shir Tikvah.
“I stood in front of his casket and put my hands on him. I just had this offering to give the community and this is what I think is it for me is: I said,’ What if Gabe could walk in the room right now? What if he could just walk in the room right now alive and well. How would you meet him? Would you be present? And I know the answer would be the same for everybody there whether they knew him, like the best friend, or the person who never met him before. Would you look him in the eye? Would you meet him? Would you check in with him? How would you touch him?’ she said.
“And that is where it starts is that we are not caring for ourselves like that. So to me, I can’t even say enough about how huge that first step is. It’s like how you would care for Gabe, can you care for yourself like that first and then just feel that every person in the room like at the funeral, like the person right next to you or behind you across the room. And then you know, outside the synagogue, outside in the city, and like the whole state, the country; the same thing is true for each one.
“If we can start to care for ourselves like that. And then from there, there’s like a natural ability to care for every single person like that. And to me, people maybe don’t want to hear that, because it takes a lot of personal responsibility every freaking single day. If we really started to embody this, which is actually doable. It’s actually simple. It’s actually what we’re here to do, then, to me, that is the big picture of what can actually change the world. And that’s why it’s so important to me that starting this foundation in Gabe’s name is not just about another issue, but it’s embedded in this message that how we’re actually living every single day, that can be the medicine. How we take our steps every day through life, and how we take those steps with another person and we’re not ever going to be perfect at it. But we can be committed to it.”
Both Kaufman and Savran are sure this is what Gabe would have wanted.
“He used to yell at his sister – in a loving way –that if [she] ever touched drugs, he would be so pissed off,” Kaufman said. “He loved Noa. I know that he wanted that for Noa.”
They spent October 9, the day of Savran’s birthday, with several of Gabe’s friends.
“I actually had some moments of joy just because I felt like his presence through them,” she said. “And their response is, ‘this is so great,'” she said. “They want to get involved. Yes, I can’t ask Gabe that. But all his friends are saying yes to this then I feel he would say yes to this also.
“I feel harmonious with him about it. I don’t feel like he’d be going ‘Stop doing this.’ And then I also feel like we can’t not say anything. I mean, I don’t know how I’m having the strength to sit here and talk to you about this. But yeah, that’s what it is, is that I can’t not. I can’t not say anything.”
Gabe Moshe Louis Lilienthal is the son of David Lilienthal, Deborah Savran (Jedediah Kaufman); Brother of Naomi (Noa) Lilienthal; Grandson of Michael Lilienthal, Drazel Solomon Lilienthal Pincus (Graham Pincus), William Savran, Laurie Savran (Cal Appleby), and Reb Anderson (Rusa Chiu).