Deaths from fake pills with fentanyl are surging across the country and right here in our own school. In the past 12 months, we've lost two students to fentanyl-related poisonings — teenagers who had hopes and dreams and plans. These teenagers had families who loved them and are still coming to grips with their losses.
Teens are purchasing what they think are OxyContin, Percoset or Xanax pills via social media, but drug dealers are making these fake pills with the cheaper, stronger and more deadly synthetic drug called fentanyl to increase their profits. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is odorless, tasteless and colorless. Teens never know what they’re getting. One pill can kill them. One pill.
The pills are nicknamed “Blues” for their common color (though they can come in other colors) or “M30s” for the stamp on the pills. The tablets are so well made that even experienced users say that they can’t tell the difference between a counterfeit pill and a pill manufactured by a pharmaceutical company. To be clear, these are not pharmaceutical-grade painkillers; they are pills made by drug dealers, mostly outside the country. There is no quality control. Pills in the same batch can have wildly varying levels of fentanyl. The amount of fentanyl it takes to overdose and die is equivalent to two grains of sand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert in December 2020 because of an increase in synthetic opioids that hit the western United States — and the Interstate 5 corridor, in particular. PPB's Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit (NOC) has seized nearly 570,000 fentanyl pills and just over 4,000 grams of powder since June 4, 2021. In 2022, the Portland Police Bureau was notified of 58 confirmed overdose deaths, with 27 of them suspected to be linked to fentanyl. According to the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), in 2021, Oregon saw 11 fentanyl-related fatal overdoses in ages 0-17 and 53 in ages 18-24.
Local investigators point to advertisements on social media platforms like Snapchat. Officials say that young people find pills especially appealing because they’re cheap, more socially acceptable than meth or heroin and don’t have a tell-tale smell like alcohol or marijuana.
Investigators have recently noted that the use of pills laced with fentanyl has diminished somewhat and has shifted to more “colorful” powdered methods to attract youth.
How can you help?
One of the best ways to protect kids from substance abuse is by having regular and open conversations to educate them about the risks. Listen to them without judgment. Also monitor their social media use. Drugs are often offered by someone that they know or a stranger that they meet on social media.
Watch for changes in their behavior including:
- Irregular eating or sleeping patterns
- Low energy
- General signs of depression or anxiety
- Unusual irritability
- Slipping grades
- Lack of interest in activities that they once loved
- Drastic clothing style changes
If you notice a change, ask about it. Trust your instincts.
Be part of the solution! If you see drugs being advertised on social media, report it anonymously to SafeOregon.