Social Media: The Place To Peddle Fentanyl-Laced Pills

It was sometime in the 2010s when Fentanyl, a synthetic Opioid similar in color and texture to Heroin, made its way to the streets and to deadly consequence. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has confiscated over 15,000 pounds of Fentanyl this year alone; an amount large enough to kill every American. The biggest concern? It’s no longer an issue of Fentanyl-laced Heroin or other common street drugs like Cocaine, Molly (Ecstasy), or Methamphetamine (Meth). Drug traffickers are now using online modalities such as social media to sell pills of Fentanyl identical in resemblance to prescriptions such as OxyContin, Xanax, and Adderall; otherwise “tightly-controlled” substances.

This means, essentially, that everyone with a smartphone (roughly 85% of the American population) and a connection to the internet has access to the networks in which these bootleg pills are being sold. Federal authorities believe the rise in Fentanyl-laced drugs is due largely to the fact that the substance is easy to transport and difficult to track. “You can fake out your parents, your friends, your partner, law enforcement,” says Joseph Palamar, associate professor and drug epidemiologist at New York University. Unlike Heroin, which is cultivated from the opium-poppy plant, Fentanyl is derived from strictly chemicals and is 50 times more powerful than Heroin. The vast majority of these counterfeit pills have been brought, bought, or smuggled into the country from Mexico where drug cartels are purchasing the necessary ingredients from China.

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Mexican Sinaloa Cartel Catering To “US Need” Of Fentanyl

In late October of this year, Mexican authorities intercepted the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the largest and most dangerous drug organizations in the Western Hemisphere, discovering a record-breaking amount of Fentanyl. In this one raid, police found approximately 260 pounds of the substance, estimated to be worth roughly $50 million US dollars.

Former commissioner of Mexico’s Federal Police, Manelich Castilla Craviotto told Business Insider, “If Mexican authorities seized more than 100 kilograms, it means criminals are producing at least several tons.” Fentanyl is both easier to produce than Cocaine or Heroin and is 20 times more profitable because it is easier to smuggle and the user requires only a minuscule dosage to become addicted; cooks are even trained to mix and create Fentanyl “according to US need”— a chilling remark. Craviotto also said, “Today Mexico does not have a policy or campaign to point out the traffickers and the producers. The present administration’s vision is very limited when compared to how things are done in the US,” a fact that makes the drug trade even more dangerous.

DEA Releases Public Safety Alert

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100,000 people died from overdose between April of 2020 and April of 2021; an estimated 75,000 of those deaths were due to an Opioid overdose—largely, from Fentanyl. For the first time in 6 years, the DEA has issued a public safety alert on the dangers of fake pills after confiscating more than 9.5 million bootleg pills – an increase of nearly 430% since 2019. Of every fake pill the agency encountered, roughly 40% have contained at least 2 milligrams of Fentanyl: an amount comparable to a few grains of course sand and enough to cause a fatal overdose.

As recently as Thursday, December 16th, the DEA discovered more than 570 new cases stemming from a single law enforcement surge, linking 39 fatal overdoses. “Social media is the perfect drug trafficking tool,” Anne Milgram, DEA Administrator said in a press conference on that same day. She spoke of cases of young teens found dead after taking what looked like prescribed Oxycodone or other legitimately procured medications purchased online, usually through social media. Drug cartels choose these mediums, Milgram says, for several reasons including the vast accessibility; “[they’re] easy to use, drug traffickers can hide their identities, they can lie about what they are selling, and most importantly, the sites permit the sale of these fake counterfeit pills every day to go unchecked.”

The other issue is that the network of criminal drug activity is completely misrepresenting what it is they are marketing and selling to people. Whether it is deliberate deception on the part of the drug cartels is not clear. “People think that they are buying real Xanax pills, real Adderall pills, real Oxycodone using online platforms that they trust…in reality, they’re getting deadly Fentanyl and pills that look just like the real thing,” Milgram said in the same conference. Hopefully awareness, vigilance, and tightened precautions can lead to a safer, more prosperous future.

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Hannah Zwemer

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  • Hannah Zwemer graduated with a BA in dance and a minor in educational studies from Denison University in 2017 before moving to Orlando to work as a performer at Walt Disney World. While at Disney, she discovered her passion for writing and pursued a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction. She is passionate about helping people in any way she can while simultaneously sharing stories that remind us that the best of us are still only human.

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