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‘I’ve never seen anything like it:’ DEA grappling with fentanyl infiltrating community

By Caroline Hecker

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    ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have died from drug overdoses in the last year, with nearly 64 percent of those deaths related to fentanyl.

It’s odorless, tasteless and often goes unseen, until it’s too late.

“During my 18 years with DEA, I’ve never experienced such a public safety threat and drug threat that we’re dealing with right now with the fentanyl epidemic,” said Colin Dickey, Assistant Special Agent with the St. Louis Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Dickey said synthetic drugs like fentanyl are being mass produced in Mexico, with many of the required chemicals and ingredients coming from China.

“There’s no quality control,” he said. “These drug criminal networks that are mass producing it only care about their profit margins and they don’t care about the safety of the American public.”

DEA agents seized around 188 kilograms of fentanyl in 2021 in St. Louis, more than 186 kilos seized in 2019 and 2020 combined.

The problem is one that extends well beyond drug users and addicts, according to the DEA. The drug is claiming younger, more unassuming victims.

“We’ve seen it start out where someone has an injury or something and is prescribed medication for real pain,” he said. “When they run out of pills or the doctor won’t give them more, they turn to social media or online to order them.”

The majority of fentanyl seized by the DEA is in the form of fake prescription pills. It can also be mixed in with other drugs, such as meth, cocaine and marijuana.

“To the untrained eye, you probably wouldn’t notice what these fake pills look like,” he said. “But if you look closely, there’s a little bit of powder where these pills are breaking apart because they’re not actually legitimate pills.”

Drug rings push product to users on social media platforms and encrypted apps, according to Dickey.

“When people think about drug activity, they think about it being dirty or a street drug,” he said. “With these counterfeit pills, they’re being ordered on Snapchat and social media sites.”

Dickey said pills ordered online can often be delivered directly to your home and can appear in a regular mail parcel or package.

The DEA is asking parents to keep a close eye on their children’s social media activity and immediately recognize if a medication hasn’t been prescribed by a doctor.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for access to their devices so you know what they have access to and what they’re doing on those sites,” he said. “These drug rings will target anyone, they know of the prescription opioid epidemic in this country and how to exploit that.”

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