PALM COAST, Fla. – The amount of fentanyl seized in the United States this year could kill every American five times, according to Customs and Border Protection, and the problem stretches far beyond the U.S.-Mexico border.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are finding a record amount of fentanyl. In Colorado and Montana, fentanyl seizures so far in 2022 are already higher than in all of 2021.
In Florida's Flagler County, fentanyl busts increased 275% compared to this time last year.
"I think it would shock the country to understand that it goes from teenagers to middle-aged people, people that you would not expect to be taking any type of drug. There's no specific demographic, no specific wealth involved here," Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said. "It’s an invasion of America by killing our residents, our citizens, because we’re not controlling the fentanyl coming across the border."
Flagler County is roughly 1,300 miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border, but law enforcement is still finding connections to Mexico's drug cartels in Florida.
"They have seen these bricks that are marked with the Mexican cartel's logo. They're very proud of their product. I've been to the border. I've seen what's going on there. They're lacing fentanyl to give the impression that it's an Adderall or it's whatever pill that somebody thinks they're buying on the black market, when in fact, it's a fake pill, and it's laced with fentanyl," Staly said.
"We're seeing that in our heroin. Marijuana is being laced with fentanyl to give the smoker a better high. They're really playing … Russian Roulette because they just don't know when they're going to get that fatal dose."
Even though fentanyl is a top priority for law enforcement, statewide data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showed fentanyl-related overdose deaths still increased 40% in the last year.
Families who lost loved ones to fentanyl overdoses are sympathetic to law enforcement's uphill battle.
"I hope they get it all. I'm thankful they got that. I think God for our deputies every day that are out there fighting this war. I mean, it is a war," said Susan Watson.
Her 25-year-old son, John Nathan Watson, whom she called Nate, died of a fentanyl overdose, and she said several of his friends also had overdosed.
"The ER doctor called in the middle of the night and said, 'Your son overdosed, and he's dead.' Just that matter-of-fact, and I didn't believe him at first. Then I just screamed and cried on the floor, and my husband took the phone," Watson said. "He got some heroin, and apparently it was laced with cocaine and fentanyl. I don't think that he knew that. He used it, he overdosed, and he died instantly. The doctor said he probably didn't know it was laced with the cocaine and fentanyl."
After losing her son, Watson started working at Break the Cycle, a substance abuse center in Flagler County. Through the pain of losing her own son, Watson has helped others overcome addiction, and she had a message for those who haven't asked for help yet.
"There are so many resources out there," Watson said. "People just probably don't know where to ask where they are. And I get so many phone calls every day, people looking for help. They want inpatient, they want outpatient, they need Vivitrol shots to get off of alcohol or drugs or whatever.
"That's what I'm thankful for being here for me to help these people find the resources that they need that they just don't know where they are, because it's just not something that people publicly put out there, and people need resources."