Another epidemic has been taking place alongside COVID: accidental overdose deaths. LA had a nearly 50% increase in the first few months of lockdown. Josiah Citrin, the Michelin-starred force behind Mélisse and Citrin in Santa Monica, lost his 23-year-old son Augie to an opioid overdose in December. Citrin is speaking out about the tragedy to hopefully prevent other parents from experiencing the same kind of heartbreak.
“I just felt like I wanted to share what happened and … the dangers that are out there right now. You don't stop reading about it. You don't stop looking on Twitter or Instagram or somewhere and having seen someone talk about losing someone to this,” he tells KCRW.
Augie overdosed on fentanyl-laced Percocet. According to the toxicology report, Augie was also mixing it with ecstasy. Citrin says he was a new Percocet user — it started after the major COVID-19 lockdown in November. Citrin also learned that his son was dealing with bipolar and borderline personality disorder.
“I think [it] was just the timing: the isolation and everything just being so difficult at that time. He was looking for escape,” he says.
Citrin says he and Augie were close. Growing up, the pair would go surfing and loved going out to eat sushi. He adds that Augie dreamed of opening his own bar where patrons could play records.
“He was super creative, super energetic. … He also went through his own head and all those demons, but he was very loving [and] always had a big smile on his face.”
Under the moniker Captain Rat Monkey, Augie experimented with producing music. He drew inspiration from artists like Frank Zappa and Brian Wilson.
Citrin says the idea of injustices in the world also deeply unsettled Augie. Last summer, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Augie attended every peaceful demonstration he could.
“The injustice in the world was always very painful for him. … He just never felt right and always was not at ease.”
In the months since Augie’s death, Citrin says he’s learned a lot about his son. Whenever he would go to a 7-Eleven, he always asked unhoused folks if he could buy them food or other goods inside.
“[His] compassion is really what I learned — so much compassion he had for people. So much love. And one thing that I really [learned] is to be very compassionate after this. To me the biggest thing is I always want to be compassionate towards everybody, and not ever knowing what they're going through, what they're experiencing. And it's important to me to be as compassionate as I can.”
Citrin says he hopes Augie’s story is a good reminder of the dangers of substance abuse.
“You don't worry about a Vicodin or a Xanax. Obviously, we worry about our kids being addicted to it and having a problem, you know, substance abuse. But I don't think it was ever like oh, it can actually kill you,” Citrin says. “We need to talk to our kids about this. And really let them know how dangerous that is out there. And don't think it's not gonna happen to my kid.”