Local mother founds Project Eli in fight against fentanyl

Aug. 21 is National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day

Daniel “Elijah” Figueroa

Sunday, August 21, will be the inaugural National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day.

Perla Mendoza, a Seal Beach resident for eight years, wants the community to be aware of this date.

Mendoza said it was not a popular subject but an important one.

Mendoza is the founder of Project Eli, named in honor of her son Daniel “Elijah” Figueroa. He was 20 he died. She said she is trying to make sense of her sons tragedy.

Daniel died in 2020 after taking a single pill that contained fentanyl.

(For more information about fentanyl, see this week’s “briefing room,” on page 4.)

According to the project Eli website, Daniel had aspired to be a businessman and wanted to strengthen his relationship with God.

Mendoza said while in high school, Daniel got good grades and was an athlete. Sometime in the 11th grade, he lost interest.

In his teens he had struggled with substance abuse. According to Project Eli’s website, completed to treatment program in July 2020.

According to Mendoza, later that year, Daniel believed he had purchased painkillers online. She said, in an August interview, that he bought 15 pills on Snapchat. A friend of his had referred Daniel to the source. He only took one pill. Unfortunately, it was a counterfeit. A fake pharmaceutical. It contained fentanyl.

Mendoza said she worked with Snapchat executives to shut down the drug dealers account. That took nine months. However, the drug dealer remains free, according to Mendoza.

“The focus of Project Eli is spreading awareness to the dangers of illegal drugs, especially Fentanyl. Our goal is education and advocation. To achieve that goal, we have collaborated with the Alexander Neville Foundation, VOID, Drug Induced Homicide Foundation, and Jade OC,” she wrote in a recent email.

“Project Eli educates parents, young adults and teens through Elijah’s story and directs them to community resources. Based in Orange County CA, Project Eli has been invited to speak at local school districts, recovering homes, and universities, addressing students and parents on the deceptive ways Fentanyl kills using Eli’s tragedy and accounts from other grieving families. We have had the privilege of educating and collaborating with Orange County and Riverside District Attorneys, OC Sheriff, LA County Sheriff, and OC Health Care Agency leaders, as well as numerous media outlets,” she wrote.

On the phone, she said, “For the longest time, I was doing everything on my own.”

According to Mendoza, a lot of the work she’s been doing has been educating people about the dangers of drugs on Snapchat.

She said that a lot of kids who are dying don’t know that they’re purchasing something with fentanyl in it.

According to Mendoza, the focus of drug education has been a aimed at high school and college students. Mendoza believes there is a need to communicate with middle school kids. She said social media makes it difficult for parents to keep track of what the kids are doing and for the police to find evidence.

Locally, Mendoza wants to do a community event.

“I reached out to several city officials including the mayor but have not received a response. I’ll be joining a group of other moms in Newport on the 21st and hosting a movie night to show [the documentary “Dead on Arrival”] and answer questions and provide resources inside my apartment. I invited my son’s friends and other young people in my family/friend circle,” she wrote in an August 16 email.