DEA Informs Adolescents About the Dangers of Illicit Drugs and Counterfeit Pills

Josie Kidder, Editor

When someone talks about dangerous, lethal drugs, what comes to mind? Heroin? Cocaine? Meth? According to Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Indianapolis, Indiana J. Michael Gannon, opioids such as fentanyl are being laced in counterfeit pills. They are being mass-produced and are flooding the United States, and they can be fatal.

“To put it in perspective of how it works: the issue right now is the counterfeit prescription pills are being laced with fentanyl, and fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is very lethal. People need to understand that when you have fentanyl that is in these drugs, it is dangerous,” Gannon said.

“If you break down fentanyl from a powder perspective, a lot of drugs that we see such as heroin and cocaine come in powder form, so a kilogram weighs 2.2 pounds. If that was fentanyl, 2.2 pounds is enough potential fatal dosage units to kill 500,000 people. We’ve seized enough powdered fentanyl in the central and southern Indiana region that could have enough fatal dosage units to kill 27 million people, and that’s just in powdered fentanyl alone,” he added.

When publications came out about singer Mac Miller’s death, everyone thought it was a suicide. Three years later into the investigation, reports came back saying that the pills were laced with a fatal dosage of fentanyl, causing the American rapper to overdose.

Throughout his 23 years of experience in the DEA, Gannon said he has seen many tragic cases involving young adults and teenagers risking their lives without fully knowing the consequences.

 “It’s important to talk about because individuals may be in situations where they may think they are taking Xanax or alprazolam, and we’re seeing that a lot of these pills are being made counterfeit and laced with various drugs, including fentanyl,” he said.

 “People need to understand that they are putting themselves in jeopardy every time they take an illicit pill from somebody. It’s so important that if you are ever going to take any prescription medication, you have to go to a doctor and get evaluated. There are too many times where we are hearing about a perfect kid who made a mistake one time who engaged in this type of activity, and it was lethal and fatal for them.”

This process of counterfeit pills is happening because these precursor chemicals are ordered from China to make up fentanyl. Then they go to Mexico and are mass-produced at secret illegal laboratories in Mexico. The drug cartels will get pill-pressed machines, and they will make counterfeit oxycodone pills to mimic an M30 pill, lacing them with fentanyl and swarming the United States with them, Gannon said.

“College kids need to know that any illegal drug they are taking has no quality, no care, or control of what goes into a dosage unit. The people that are trying to mass-produce these pills are not chemists; they aren’t rocket scientists; they are just putting this stuff together because they are greedy, and all they care about is making money,” he said

Many people have died from the increase of counterfeit pills, making the opioid crisis outrageously difficult to defeat. The number of counterfeit pills and deaths may not seem terrible from a single viewpoint, but from a statistical viewpoint in the U.S alone, it’s hard to overlook.

“The reason I want to get this message out is that if you look at what DEA does on a national level, DEA and our partners, we have seized 9.5 million counterfeit pills so far this year. If you look at a statistic, that’s more pills than the last two years combined, which is a staggering amount of pills. What you have to understand is that those pills are flooding our country. The latest CDC report revealed that 93,000 in 2020 died because of a drug overdose, of that, 93,000; 68,000 were opioid-related; over 50,000 of those pills were fentanyl-related. The DEA laboratories have analyzed the 9.5 million counterfeit pills that were seized, and they determined that 40% of them had enough amounts of fentanyl in them to be fatal dosage units.”

These counterfeit pills are surging throughout the country, letting more and more people fall into a cycle of addiction. Addiction can have dreadful consequences for people who engage in such activity and hurt the ones they love most. Gannon said the best way to fix this problem is to not partake in any drug use unless necessary and prescribed by a licensed doctor. 

“I would encourage everybody in this day and age not to use any drug unless prescribed by a doctor, and really understand the severity and repercussions of what could happen using illicit drugs. The drug traffickers are working to put fentanyl in these drugs. Whether it’s meth, heroin, cocaine, or counterfeit pills, they want to get people addicted to fentanyl. If they get people addicted, the traffickers can keep making money from the distribution of the pills or the powder. To show how powerful fentanyl is, it’s 50 times more powerful than heroin and approximately 100 times more addictive than morphine. It’s highly addictive and highly lethal if it’s just over 2 milligrams.”

The DEA offers a free website that informs others about the effects of drugs. The website includes a variety of resources, such as lesson plans and videos. It also helps parents, teachers, and coaches talk to their kids and students about drugs. 

“I’ve seen a lot of families destroyed because of drugs. I just think that as a community, if we come together, rely on others to step up, and show the leadership that they have, it will help spread the message of how lethal these drugs are. We need to let these people know that there are rehabilitation centers and prevention entities available for them; all they need to do is talk to someone,” said Gannon.