On Dec. 29, Trygve Efrem Pehlivanian, 20, choked to death on his own vomit, apparently from an accidental drug overdose.
The real story, Trygve’s story, is much harder to take.
His mother Gen has gone through a gamut of emotions: shock, embarrassment, rage. “I had a really hard time with it. Initially, I didn’t want people to know my kid overdosed [cries], even if it’s accidental. The days before the memorial, I got pissed off, WTF was he doing, why was he buying drugs? Why are kids dying from this shit? Why my kid? Why my kid?”
Her oldest son wasn’t out there trying to get high. He just wanted some relief from the pain in his throat. He’d been suffering from a recurrent throat problem off and on, ever since getting mono his freshman year at Kamiak High School.
“Being a 20-year-old kid, he ignored his sore throat until it got so bad that his tonsils swelled and he ended up in the emergency room,” Gen explains. “They had to give him antibiotics and steroids to get the swelling down. Of course, it’s super-painful, so they gave him some pain meds to get him through a couple days until the antibiotics kicked in.”
His throat swelled up a few weeks later while vacationing with his girlfriend in Reno, close to Thanksgiving. Again, he put off going to the doctor. “When I picked him up from the airport, his throat was so swollen that he couldn’t talk, he was spitting. I took him straight to the ER. They did the same thing. Then, they did a CT scan. It turned out he had an abscess behind one of his tonsils. They had to go in and drain that, extract as much as they could. Sent him home, told him, you’re probably gonna need to get your tonsils out. We went and saw the ENT. She said, yep, we need to get ’em out. She gave him more steroids… We decided after the first of the year, we’ll schedule the surgery. In the meantime, he was taking the medication, getting better, and we went to Winthrop for Christmas [with the family].”
His throat acted up again, really bad, right after Christmas. Gen could only get an appointment at a nearby Walgreen’s walk-in clinic, because of the holidays. “I don’t know if Trygve told him his history, but the doctor just gave him antibiotics and Prednisone, and sent him on his way. Knowing Tryg, he was probably like, Oh I don’t wanna ask the doctor for any pain meds, ’cause I don’t wanna look like an addict. So he got his prescription at CVS, called me and said, ‘I’m headed home.’”
At first, Gen thought Trygve died from a bad chemical reaction to antibiotics — until the Medical Examiner’s report revealed the Percocet he’d bought was counterfeit, M30s laced with fentanyl and carfentanil.
This deadly cocktail’s in “everything, even marijuana,” Gen says. The average painkiller bought off the street could contain a Russian Roulette of cocaine, meth, fentanyl, carfentanil, “anything that simulates the high that you get when you take a Percocet or Oxy or whatever else, ’cause it’s cheaper.” It all goes into a blender, and gets stamped out to look like M30s or other prescription pills.
“But they’re not prescription, they’re counterfeit, and they cannot control how much of these drugs go into each pill. One pill could have no fentanyl in it, or another one could have enough to kill you,” Gen notes. “Let’s say Tryg had 10, out of those pills, it only takes one. All the rest of ’em he maybe could’ve taken and he would’ve been fine. But it just takes one.”
That one fateful night has left shockwaves through the community, and a mother without the glue to her family, the kid who took his brothers Soren and Koll and sister Anna off on adventures, camping, fishing, shooting, four-wheeling. He was the kid who knew how to have a good time — and made sure nobody was left out of his wolf pack.
He was also the last kid you’d think would succumb to this growing counterfeit drug epidemic.
“He just wanted to be out of pain. He had a sore throat, he had swollen tonsils, what the hell? We assumed they just swelled up and he couldn’t breathe or something,” she says. “I’m not naïve. Tryg’s my wild child. I know he’s probably done everything under the sun, but as far as drugs go, he’d rather have a beer and a chew, and go four-wheeling, light something on fire, jump off something, or speed around in his truck. I’m not saying he never did drugs, because I’m sure he has, and I know he’s experimented, but that’s just not him. Anybody that knows him knows that’s not him. But now, it makes him look like he’s a partier or somebody that was addicted or abused drugs, because there’s that stigma again. Overdose, he’s using drugs, drugs, OMG. I don’t want my fucking kid to be associated with that. That was really hard for my kids, too. They’re all like [cries], ‘That’s not Tryg at all. That’s not him.’”
After his Jan. 7 memorial service, Gen got over her embarrassment and met with Kamiak High School administrators to discuss warning students about these counterfeit drugs, so that what happened to her son never happens to them. She plans to meet with the school again, maybe contact local media.
“We’re being open about it with whoever. We want to work with the school somehow. Kids need to know that this stuff, it will kill you,” she continues, her voice breaking. “This is an epidemic, a crisis. This needs to get out there now, not later, now. I would literally go to every fucking school and have an assembly and talk about this. I’d get on the frickin’ news and do it. It’s gotta start and end somewhere. And if I have to start it, then I’ll start it. It’s not just gonna take me and my family, though, it’s gonna take everybody’s help. I don’t want another kid to die. I don’t want another parent to go through this. It affects so many people when somebody dies, let alone a kid.”
By all accounts, Trygve was a hell-raising daredevil with a heart of gold who called his own shots, who called his lucky circle of friends family, and who gave his parents Gen and Garo fits from the moment he arrived in this world five weeks premature.
“Even at a young age, Trygve was always super-caring. He cared about how people felt. Always wanting to get in there, help with whatever,” she recalls. “He went through his wild period, where we just battled, because he’d be driving too fast, crashing cars, multiple utilities around this town. He just did not like authority at all; you couldn’t tell him anything. He was gonna do it his way, and his way was always the hard way. Beginning of his junior year, he went to school for maybe a total of a week, then he tried to do online school, then he was like, ‘Forget it, I hate school, I’m just gonna go get my GED.’”
Damned if he didn’t do it, too.
Eventually, he figured his life out, becoming a respected, hard-working assistant manager at Discount Tire. He even wanted to hang out more with his family in the final months. From Aug. to Dec., the Pehlivanians didn’t just make memories, they lit that motherfucker up, Trygve style.
“I’m overwhelmed by the people who’ve been impacted by Trygve, for the better. I don’t think I realized how neat of a kid he was until he passed. I have multiple people tell me, ‘You should be so proud of him, because he’s such a kind and caring and giving person.’ Shirt off your back. Loyal friend. He has a group of about 10; they’re their own little family. All of them have each other’s backs, all of them are super-tight,” Gen agrees. “When you’re with Tryg, you’re gonna have a good time. He was one of those kids that you just wanted to be around, because he just made you smile. I always knew there was something special about him. He turned out to be a really great kid. And it sucks that he’s gone. He had so much more to give, so much more.”
If she’s learned anything from Trygve’s death, it’s letting the small stuff slide, enjoying the moments, and really talking to her kids — no judgment, real talk. She implores other parents to do the same. Don’t avoid the tough topics, like drugs. It’s out there, and it’s getting bad.
“Here’s a great kid who made one mistake, he took one pill, and now he’s gone. If you think it will never happen to you, it can and it will. There’s so much more out there, people just don’t know how deep it goes,” she continues. “I’m pissed off about it. Fucking good kids are dying, because of this stuff. It’s not the addicts, it’s anybody, kids that do just recreational drugs on the weekends, the ones who wanna be out of pain, the users, young, old, it doesn’t fucking matter. This stuff doesn’t care, it will take whoever. You literally don’t know what’s gonna be good or bad. I told my kids, ‘Here, you all take a pill, everyone take a pill, but just know that one of you is gonna die, would you take it?’ I know damned well I wouldn’t. You’re taking your life in your hands when you buy stuff off the street.”