The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has rolled out a targeted national campaign in hopes of cracking down on fentanyl-related deaths.
The awareness campaign, called “One Pill Can Kill,” comes amid a sharp increase in illegal sales of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine, and a rise in fentanyl-related poisonings or overdoses. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is used to treat severe pain, but can be highly addictive.
The safety alert is warning that pills bought outside a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous and possibly even deadly.
The counterfeit pills made by criminal drug dealers resemble real prescription opioid tablets such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and Xanax, or stimulants like Adderall, officials say.
“Fake prescription pills are widely accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms – making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors,” DEA officials said in a news release Monday.
Part of the campaign is simply making the public aware of what can be in counterfeit pills, as well as targeting sellers on social media, said Bill Bodner, special agent in charge in the DEA’s Los Angeles field office.
The recent fentanyl-related deaths of celebrities like actor Michael K. Williams, Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, Mac Miller, Prince and Tom Petty have put the spotlight even more on the epidemic. But drug enforcement officials say the issue is affecting communities across the country, and the coronavirus pandemic only made the situation worse.
In Los Angeles County more than 50% of drug-caused fatalities are attributed to fentanyl, and those percentages are also spiking in Riverside, Ventura and Orange counties, according to the DEA. Overall, the Southern California region’s fentanyl death rate is on track to climb even higher by the end of 2021 compared to the previous year.
Last March, Jaime Puerta’s 16-year-old son Daniel bought what he thought was oxycodone off a popular social media platform. Instead, the teen purchased pure fentanyl in pill form. Daniel later died from accidental poisoning of the drug.
“My son passed away in the safest place in the world, which was his home,” Puerta told KTLA. “He was deceived to death. The drug dealer knew that he was selling him a counterfeit opioid and he knew that there was fentanyl in it, with absolute complete disregard for the life of my son.”
After his son’s death, Puerta started his own organization in his son’s memory: Victims of Illicit Drugs, or VOID. Puerta aims to raise awareness in the opioid fight by ensuring no other parent has to lose a child to dangerous drugs.
“I hope my son is smiling down on me from heaven, giving me the strength to continue in this fight, trying to save other children’s lives,” Puerta said.
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