‘One Pill Can Kill’: DEA issues public safety alert, spike in overdoses linked to fentanyl

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The United States Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public safety warning for “fake drugs” that are disguised as common pain medications but instead are full of fentanyl.

The alert came Tuesday — the first in six years from the DEA. The goal is to raise awareness of the surge in counterfeit pills that are being “mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs.”

It’s a cause that hits close to home for Angela James in Murfreesboro. Her life changed on August 20, 2019.

“I go knock on the door, he didn’t respond. I opened the door, turned on the lights. That was August 20, 2019, and it was the worst day of my life” said James.

She says that day started out as any typical day. Her 27-year-old son, Tre, was staying with her. When James’ granddaughter went to check on Tre, she noticed white tissues sticking out of his nose. Later, James says instead of white tissue it was a mixture of foam and blood that ran from Tre’s nose after passing away.

“It’s murder, murder, that’s what it is. There were only two pills that were found in my child’s system, but it was pure fentanyl,” explained James. “These kids are thinking they’re taking an aspirin or something minute like that, and it be fentanyl because they got it from somebody else. Somebody they thought they could trust, but now when it comes down to it, you can’t trust, but now when it comes down to it, you can’t trust anybody.”

James said she knew her son was feeling down, and would often become depressed. She said, Tre thought he was taking pain medication given to him by a friend, but James would soon learn he took a chance, which would then take his life.

Two years later, and it’s a tough lesson James is hoping others won’t repeat. She has created the Tre’s Kids Foundation, which is dedicated to making “a lasting impact through campaigns and programs.”

James says her son had no kids at the time he died but wanted to be a father. Since her son was not able to become a father, she decided to give him as many kids as possible, by helping families and individuals struggling with addiction or drugs, then becoming one of “Tre’s Kids.”

The DEA and its law enforcement have seized deadly fake pills at a record rate. So far this year, more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been confiscated. That’s more than the last two years combined.

DEA lab testing revealed two out of every five pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. Many of these counterfeit pills are made to look like prescription opioids — so much, in fact, it can be difficult to tell the difference.

A deadly dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.

“They look good. They look like oxycodone. They have the markings something was manufactured with a pharmaceutical company, but very illicit, they are out of a clandestine drug lab,” said Tommy Farmer, Special Agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Dangerous Drugs Task Force Unit.

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Farmer says it’s a deadly market that’s hitting teens and young adults. Oftentimes, these fake prescription pills are being sold on social media, making them available to anyone with a smartphone.

“We are still at a 25-30% increase from our 2019 numbers, hopefully, we’ll plateau we won’t go up, but the overdoses are a tremendous part of our problem,” explained Special Agent Farmer.

The DEA is reminding people to only take safe medications from licensed and accredited medical professionals.

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