Los Gatos student directs ‘Fentanyl High’ documentary to raise awareness on youth drug use
In 2020, two Los Gatos High School students fatally overdosed on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug 50 times as potent as heroin.
Los Gatos High School junior Kyle Santoro is on a mission to make sure teens and parents talk not just about the dangers of fentanyl but why kids are reaching for drugs in the first place.
Santoro directed a documentary, “Fentanyl High: The Truth Behind the HIgh School Epidemic,” and helped launch a Santa Clara County campaign to raise awareness of underage drug use.
“In many ways it affects everyone in the community whenever you hear that a peer in your community or your school has died …because you can picture yourself, you can picture your friends, you can picture your siblings,” Santoro said.
“I can’t even imagine what the parents of those kids had to go through, and if you have the chance to be the voice to prevent deaths – not just from pills but in general – any kid should always take that opportunity.”
A free screening of his documentary is set for May 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Los Gatos High School theater, located at 20 High School Court, followed by a panel discussion with local leaders and teens.
The film features interviews with Santa Clara County high school students, leaders and parents of students who died of fentanyl poisoning. Santoro said he hopes his peer-to-peer approach will resonate with teens.
“This is not just about fentanyl poisoning and taking pills; it’s why kids are considering experimenting with drugs,” Santoro said. “There’s definitely a deeper pain with kids from my generation, which is why we need to talk about this from a peer-to-peer point of view so we can save lives.”
The Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District partnered with Santoro to produce the documentary, contributing $1,500 to his $38,000 budget.
“We are incredibly proud of our community for attempting to reach students in a variety of ways on this topic, including this student-directed documentary that looks at fentanyl from students’ perspectives,” the district said in a statement. “It is our hope that each touchpoint reaches a new audience that will join us in this preventative work.”
One in five California teenage deaths were caused by fentanyl in 2021. Teens who think they are buying Adderall, OxyContin, Percocet or Xanax from a stranger on social media don’t know that their pills are laced with fentanyl, Santoro said.
A small amount of fentanyl goes a long way, and drug traffickers often mix it into other drugs because of its low cost to manufacture. Just two milligrams can be fatal.
The stigma around the topic can make parents and teens uncomfortable, but it’s important to talk about the dangers of drugs, said Katy Hawk, an LGHS senior who is in the film.
“The fentanyl epidemic across the globe is simply happening due to lack of knowledge,” Hawk said. “The majority of teens being exposed to fentanyl aren’t even aware that it is in the drug they are taking. Education is powerful. It is better to be educated and safe than uncertain and at risk.”
The film’s topic hits close to home. In 2022, police arrested a 23-year-old man for allegedly selling Los Gatos teens fentanyl-laced pills near the high school.
Deputy District Attorney Eunice Lee said that the Santa Clara Police Department’s investigation into a 15-year-old girl who overdosed on a fentanyl-laced Percocet pill led them to Simon Armendariz of San Jose.
The girl survived after paramedics administered the opioid-blocking drug Narcan. She was one of four teens who bought fentanyl from Armendariz.
Santoro has his own production company, LC2, and partnered with the Saratoga-based fentanyl awareness nonprofit Song for Charlie and the Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School District to produce the documentary.
The documentary was partially funded by Song for Charlie and the school district. Alongside the film, Santoro worked with the school district, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and Song for Charlie to design a countywide campaign, “One Pill Kills.”
Following the screening, Santoro will take feedback from the community before entering the documentary in national film festivals. He also worked with Song For Charlie to develop a study guide to accompany the documentary that will be taught in classrooms across the country.