NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Fentanyl continues to be one of the deadliest drug threats in the United States. According to the CDC, more than 100,000 Americans have died from a drug overdose in 2021, with the majority of them linked to fentanyl.

August 31, marked International Overdose Awareness Day. Cities throughout Middle Tennessee took a moment to honor the day, as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation repeated its stance on the problem, warning others about the dangerous drug.

Dre’Veis Hidalgo-Esmon

The numbers are startling, but the stories behind each figure tell the heartbreaking reality of what fentanyl is capable of.

“That smile. When I close my eyes, I can always see that smile,” said Jennifer Russell, as she looked at a picture of her son.

Pictured: Jennifer Russell and her son, Dre’Veis

In a big family, parents can easily remember their firstborn. However, a new date will always remain in her mind, October of 2019.

“Words that ring in my ear all the time […] ‘I’m sorry, I thought you were already aware that your son is deceased,'” remembered Russell.

It’s a distant but piercing memory she now has. That day, she was in Columbia running errands when she received a call from her mother. She says she ignored it the first time around, but when she called her mother back, a police officer told Russell she needed to come to her mother’s home.

“He just had a love for everybody and everything,” Russell.

At 27 years old, Dre’Veis was found inside his grandmother’s home, dead from a fentanyl overdose. His family says for years, he had struggled with drugs, and spent time in and out of rehab, even helping others get clean. However, his mother never thought it would take her son’s life.

“I think hindsight is 20/20, I guess it was always a possibility, but he was just the type of person that you always expected to bounce back,” said Russell. “We were really shocked.”

Russell now spends her time letting others know that they’re not alone. Overdose deaths have now become one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Since losing her son, she found comfort in the organization Light from the Darkness, which connects those who are grieving after a loss.

“In losing my baby, I believe I found my purpose. I now try to continue his work. I try to bring awareness to the stigma attached to addiction. Addiction knows no boundaries. It doesn’t discriminate. Addiction/overdose does not care what your race/ethnicity is. It doesn’t care if you have a great job or work for minimum wage. It doesn’t care if you come from a loving family or not. If you know someone struggling (and believe me, you probably do) please do not look on in pity. Please don’t try to ignore it. Please don’t judge. Just hug them and let them know, there is help available,” Russell wrote, on the organization’s Facebook page.

INSIDE THE LAB

Last year, the state hit a record-breaking number, of overdose deaths, and it’s a problem law enforcement say is impacting thousands.

“In staggering numbers, we are seeing substances we’ve never imagined, in quantities we’ve never seen before,” said David Rausch Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

News 2 got a look inside one of their labs, where analysts examine how these illicit substances are made. Right now, the department has identified more than 20 different strains and types of fentanyl.

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“We know there are two Mexican cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG, the new generation cartel, that are dominating the fentanyl market. They are using ingredients that they buy from China and they can make an unlimited amount,” said Rausch.

Counterfeit pills have been saturating the market. Fentanyl is so strong, that oftentimes people who make illicit drugs use it to make their drugs cheaper and more powerful. It’s most commonly found in heroin, cocaine, meth and pressed fake prescription pills.

‘RAINBOW FENTANYL’

This week, the Drug Enforcement Administration put out a new warning, alerting people of a new drug hitting the market. It’s being dubbed “rainbow fentanyl.”

“This is a particular group of drugs, and so they may use different tactics to identify them or to set them apart,” said Tommy Farmer, the Special Agent in Charge with the Tennesee Dangerous Drugs Taskforce.

The DEA and law enforcement partners have seized the brightly colored pills in 18 states. As of Wednesday, News 2 was told the department has not found them in Tennessee.

Dubbed the name ‘Rainbow Fentanyl’, the Drug Enforcement Administration says it’s made to resemble candy.

“Rainbow fentanyl—fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes—is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.  “The men and women of the DEA are relentlessly working to stop the trafficking of rainbow fentanyl and defeat the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in the United States.”

The worry comes from not only the drug itself but also how it looks. The drug is made to look like candy to children and young people. It comes in multiple forms, including pills, powder, and blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk. The DEA explained, that despite claims that certain colors may be more potent than others, there has been no indication through testing that this is the case.