LACOMBE, LA – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and law enforcement agencies across the country are finding deadly fake pills at record rates.
"This is probably the most dangerous time to be a teenager here in America," said Dr. Charles Preston, the coroner in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.
Last week, in unrelated incidents, two young people in Dr. Preston's community died on the same night after taking what they believed to be Percocets. In one case, a 21-year-old took one pill and it killed him.
While official toxicology results can take up to six weeks, Dr. Preston believes the pill was likely laced with fentanyl. He fears these types of pills are plaguing his community.
"When I see this phenomenon of one pill that kills, that is a super red flag that we're dealing with counterfeit medications," Preston said.
Preston said early on, he was seeing fentanyl mixed with heroin, but now he's seeing it more often pressed into pills that appear to be Adderall, Xanax, or Percocet.
"Teenagers think they're getting one drug for a party and unfortunately, it can be the last thing they'll ever do," Preston said.
The public health group, The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), tracks fake pill deaths nationwide.
Executive Director Shabbir Safdar says more dealers are selling their supply on social media.
"The drug traffickers have found social media as both an anonymous way of advertising their wares and also an easy way to gain access to a younger audience you wouldn't normally find interacting with drug traffickers," Safdar said.
Safdar says teens as young as 13 are on social media buying pills.
"Dealers are going where the money is and there are kids with money," Safdar said. "It doesn't take more than $20, $25 to buy some of these fake pills and a lot of kids can scrape that together."
According to PSM data, fake pill deaths have been linked to social media in at least 22 states.
Safdar says more parents need to make sure their kids know they can't trust anyone who is selling online.
"Teenagers don't understand that just because they look like a real pill, doesn't mean they're a real pill," Safdar said. "Typically, these pills don't have any active ingredient. It's just filler powder and fentanyl."
In 2021, the DEA seized over 20 million fake pills in the U.S. The agency warns any pill purchased outside a licensed pharmacy is illegal and potentially deadly.
The DEA says many of these drugs are coming from criminal drug labs in Mexico.