A person does not have to suffer from a long-term substance abuse problem to suffer the consequences of fentanyl when only two milligrams is lethal and it’s become more easily accessible through social media.
“Don’t think that when you hear national stories on the news… Parker, Douglas County – we are not immune to the national trends,” said Acting Special Agent David Olesky of the Drug Enforcement Administration Rocky Mountain Field.
Parker Police Chief Jim Tsurapas and the Parker Police Department hosted a law enforcement, healthcare and local leaders discussion panel at Legend High School to talk about the dangers and effects of fentanyl.
Tsurapas said officers are responding to calls to find people overdosing on fentanyl.
Authorities also believe increased fentanyl use is also tied to other crimes, such as more stolen cars and guns.
“We’re dealing with fentanyl almost daily,” said Tsurapas.
Law enforcement and government agencies are not the only ones dealing with fentanyl, it’s parents, siblings and friends.
Panelist Dawn Danner, a Parker resident and mother, stressed the need to have conversations with teens and children about the dangers of pills.
One of Danner’s sons had struggled with substance abuse. He later died from a cocaine overdose that was mixed with fentanyl.
Speaking to community members has given Danner purpose and she aims to help educate youth that one pill can change your life.
Drug Enforcement Administration findings
Criminal drug networks are flooding the U.S. with deadly fake pills and traffickers are using fake pills to exploit the opioid crisis and prescription drug misuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
DEA officials have reported a dramatic rise in the number of fake pills containing at least two milligrams of fentanyl, which is equivalent to three grains of salt.
Fentanyl came on the radar for the DEA in 2015 when there was a transition in the country from addiction to prescription opioids, said Olesky.
People started using heroin more and then the cartels started to introduce fentanyl.
In 2022, the DEA seized more than 50 million fake pills often laced with fentanyl, which was nearly double the amount seized in 2021.
So far in 2023, the DEA has seized around 63 million fake pills.
Many of the fake pills being mass-produced by criminal drug networks are falsely marketed as legitimate prescription pills to deceive the public.
The latest lab testing by the DEA reveals that seven out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose, said Olseky. A rise from four out of every 10 from a few years ago.
In 2021, 107,622 people died by drug poisoning in the country, according to the DEA.
Synthetic opioid deaths are the number one killer of people ages 18 to 45 in the U.S., said Kristin Carpenter, external relations strategists with the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.
She added that although the U.S. makes up nearly 5% of the world’s population, it consumes over 80% of the world’s opioids.
“So when we are talking about this as an epidemic, it is an ‘us’ problem,” said Carpenter. “It is very specific to the United States and it’s something to be mindful of.”
Colorado and local statistics
The Colorado Consortium is part of the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
The Consortium coordinates Colorado’s response to the misuse of medications and aims to reduce misuse and abuse through the development of policies, organizations and community coalitions.
As total overdose deaths in Colorado have increased dramatically since 2019, according to their 2022 annual report, fentanyl caused 534 overdoses in 2020 in Colorado and increased to 912 in 2021.
“Fentanyl is easily making up more than half overdose deaths that we are seeing in the state,” said Carpenter. “And unfortunately, they are increasing.”
Captain Joel White of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said that fentanyl, which is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, comes up from Mexico through the I-25 corridor and then “pollutes our communities.”
In unincorporated Douglas County, deaths contributed to fentanyl have slowly increased over the past couple of years, according to White.
Historically, fentanyl deaths have been investigated as an overdose.
“It’s not just a death investigation, that there’s a crime here and should be investigated as a homicide,” said White.
As the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is working with other jurisdictions to investigate fentanyl through I-25 Corridor Interdiction Operations, seizures have been made.
Douglas County Impact statistics show there were over 55,000 pills seized (off the highway) in 2021. Additionally, there were nearly 8,000 seized in 2021 and almost 10,000 thus far in 2023.
DEA agent Olesky said agencies are constantly rolling out statistics, however, they remain important.
In Colorado, 11,533 people went to the emergency room department due to something involving a drug overdose, said Carpenter.
In Douglas County specifically, 435 individuals went to the emergency room and a vast majority of those individuals were ages 15 to 45.
Additionally, consortium studies show that almost all of the emergency room department visits are more female.
“Which is not to say that more women are using substances,” said Carpenter. “Men typically use substances more often but they are less likely to seek out care.”
A third of the people who went to the emergency room department in 2022 in Douglas County were something involving overdose and were ages 15 to 24, said Carpenter.
Accessibility and social media
According to the DEA, fake prescription pills are becoming easier to get as they are often sold on social media and e-commercial platforms, making them available to anyone with a smartphone.
The reason behind the complexity of this issue for law enforcement is that it is difficult to get into smartphones, said White.
The way cartel networks are trafficking, Olesky said, is through social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook and are using apps like Venmo to pay for the pills.
Also, young adults and youth are communicating through emojis and using code words.
For example, what they have found is that the rocket ship emoji has to do with the potency of a drug and the plug means the sources of supply.
The DEA provides a resource that decodes the meaning of certain emojis and can be found at https://tinyurl.com/y2z33yvy.
It is not just the colors and names of the pills that the public needs to look for. Olesky said the next generation of what the cartels are putting out into the marketplace are pills being pressed into familiar shapes.
Pills are being pressed with logos such as the Tesla logo, a scorpion and pressed into the shape of the Incredible Hulk, which could resemble a child’s vitamin.
Many parents find it difficult to decide at what age to talk to their children about the dangers of drugs.
Cpt. White, with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said that it’s situational and it depends on what the child is involved in, especially if they are using social media or chatting through gaming systems.
DEA.gov has additional resources on ways to talk about the dangers of fentanyl as a family.
“Knowing what you’re putting in your body and the message might not have to be about fentanyl,” said Olesky. “But making healthy decisions and healthy choices.”
When Danner had to tell her younger children that their brother had died, she told them he was given medicine that a doctor didn’t give him.
From a mother’s perspective, Danner said parents should find a way to weave it into daily discussions about safety.
“We can teach our children to be aware without having to tell them at [ages] seven or six about drugs,” said Danner.