LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Thirteen people who have died from fentanyl poisoning in Clark County are 18 years old or younger – two of those deaths are teenagers who took a pill, not knowing it contained the potent drug that killed them.

Drug cartels are manufacturing Illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50-to-100 times more potent than morphine, and combining it with other street drugs.

In 2020, 193 people in Clark County died from ingesting illicit fentanyl – just a few grains are enough to kill a person. Out of those 193 deaths, nine were children. For the first eight months of 2021, four children have died.

What makes the problem even worse: Dealers, oftentimes not even knowing what they are selling to their customers, are pawning off pressed pills packed with illicit fentanyl.

Giovanni “Gio” Perkins, 17, died from fentanyl poisoning in 2020. (KLAS)

Giovanni “Gio” Perkins, 17, died from fentanyl poisoning in 2020.

“He’s probably like, ‘I’m not surprised my mom’s out there acting a fool,’” Gio’s mother, Cristina Perkins, said. Her purpose more than a year after her son’s death is to make good after enduring something so bad.

“I never in my life thought what was going to take him was a pill,” Perkins said.

Before bed one late-summer night, Gio took a pill he thought was for pain, but it contained enough fentanyl to kill him in his sleep.

“I’m trying to do CPR on him. I’m checking his pulse and there’s like nothing,” Cristina Perkins remembered about the next morning. “It’s probably the worst thing that you’ll ever, ever, ever, ever, experience in your life. It’s not like a kid losing their parent. Losing a child is unexplainable.”

With T-shirts, sweatpants and stickers, Perkins is a mom on a mission, with a foundation in her son’s name. Its slogan: “one pill will kill,” similar to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s “one pill can kill” campaign.

Just a few grains of fentanyl can kill a person. This image from the DEA shows a lethal dose of illicit fentanyl powder next to a penny. The image to the right shows the amounts for heroin and carfentanil, an illicit drug even more potent and deadly. (DEA)

Perkins’ phrase is not just embroidered in fabric, but plastered on billboards around Las VegasShe raised money to place the billboards up around the valley and hopes to keep them up for a year.

“I thought I knew my son,” she said. “I thought I knew him like a book. When they go out that front door, you have no idea what they’re doing. It makes the hairs stand up when I hear the stories of, ‘They didn’t wake up in the morning.’”

Cristina Perkins’ message is plastered on billboards across the Las Vegas Valley. She raised money to place the messages, with a photo of her son, Giovanni “Gio” Perkins, who died at age 17 from fentanyl poisoning. (KLAS)

Six months after Gio’s death, Lee Gugino’s 17-year-old daughter, Mia, also died under the same circumstances.

“She was ferocious in sports,” Lee Gugino said. “Any sport, we played them all, swimming, soccer, basketball.”

Lee, a physical education teacher in the northwest valley, taught Mia when she was a grade school student at Sheila Tarr Academy. Her reputation as a sports superstar reverberates through the building’s walls. Lee’s classroom is full of Las Vegas sports memorabilia and photos of the teams he has coached.

“I see her in every place,” Gugino said. “Doing her track-a-thon. I see her shooting hoops for her undefeated basketball team, 4th-grade year.”

Six months after Gio’s death, Lee Gugino’s 17-year-old daughter, Mia Gugino, also died under the same circumstances. (KLAS)

In February, Mia, who had graduated early from Centennial High School and began online learning as a freshman at the College of Southern Nevada, took a pill she thought was ecstasy. She never woke up.

“As soon as I opened the door, I knew immediately that my daughter — something was wrong,” Gugino said. “She was freezing cold and gone and I just apologized profusely, because it was my job to protect her.”

Mia Gugino and Gio Perkins are among the 13 children who had died from illicit fentanyl poisoning from the start of 2020 through August 2021, the last month where data is available from the Southern Nevada Health District. For the 10 years before that, from 2010 to 2019, there was one child death reported from fentanyl poisoning.

“I didn’t prepare her,” Gugino said. “If I could have one more conversation, I would tell her about this drug. That’s what I wish.”

Joshua Roberts, 22, is accused of giving Mia the pill that killed her. He is charged with second-degree murder and the sale of a controlled substance. Last week, a grand jury indicted him on the two charges.

Police have not charged a dealer in Gio’s case.

Lee Gugino’s physical education classroom is full of sports memorabilia, including photos of his 17-year-old daughter, Mia Gugino. (KLAS)

“I would love for the person who Gio got his pill from to get prosecuted,” Perkins said.

Now both parents, one with a message high above the valley, another with memories in a classroom, do not want this same fate for any other family.

“I’m not going to let it slip through my fingers that easy,” Perkins said.

Police and prosecutors have charged several young people over the past few months with second-degree murder charges in connection with the fentanyl poisoning deaths of other young people.

Fentanyl deaths among Clark County residents, 2011-2021:
201981 (1 person 18 and under)
2020*193 (9 people 18 and under)
2021*160 (4 people 18 and under)
Data sources: 2011-2019 data:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2019 on CDC WONDER Online Database released in 2020. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2019, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at on Nov 2, 2021 5:37:27 PM 2020-2021 data: SNHD Death Certificate Data. 2021 data are current through August 2021. *subject to change

Metro police took Aria Styron, 21, into custody outside of a Summerlin movie theater in October. On March 4, a father called dispatchers, saying his 21-year-old daughter, Adrianna Folks, was deceased in the home.

Police said Folks’ boyfriend had died of an overdose in January and that Styron’s boyfriend had also died of an overdose in October 2020. Styron is not connected to those overdoses, police said. She has no connection to Mia or Gio’s cases either.

This photo provided by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah and introduced as evidence in a 2019 trial shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during an investigation. (U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP)

Investigators began investigating Styron and found she was allegedly selling drugs on Snapchat, a social media platform where messages and photos disappear after viewing, with the screen name “yungdrugaddict.” Detectives said they saw pictures and videos of Styron “advertising what she claimed to be Xanax” for sale, court documents said.

Investigators later obtained a search warrant for Styron’s Snapchat account, finding Styron would buy marijuana, Xanax and Oxycodone and sell them, police said.

One week before her death, investigators learned Folks had texted a friend looking for Oxycodone pills. The friend directed her to Styron, police said.

Ultimately, police believe Folks bought what she believed to be Oxycodone from Styron the night before she died, police wrote.