‘One pill can kill:’ DEA, Snapchat, parents confront deadly fentanyl

Fancy an Oxycontin pill to take the edge off? A little cocaine to celebrate?

For even the youngest kids, finding recreational drugs has been as easy as a quick search of online platforms like Snapchat, where dealers have brazenly showcased their wares. But the drugs that were delivered, sometimes right to a young teen’s front door, were not the real thing. They actually contained fentanyl, a cheap synthetic opioid some 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Alexander Neville, 14, pictured during a trip to Palomar Mountain in 2019, died after ingesting fentanyl in June. (Photo courtesy of the Neville family)

It took just one pill to kill Alexander Neville, 14, a smart, curious kid prone to a philosophical and distinctively teenage anxiety. And Jessica Shely Filson, 29, eager to celebrate a milestone. And Daniel Puerta, 16, and Alexandra Capelouto, 20, and thousands of others who weren’t addicts struggling with long-term addiction, but young people doing what their parents might have done 25 or 30 years ago, before deadly fentanyl infected just about every street drug.

An increasingly alarming body count has prompted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to launch its first public safety alert in six years, warning of a sharp increase in fake prescription pills containing not only fentanyl, but methamphetamine as well.

Parents of the dead have produced “Dead on Arrival,” a gut-wrenching, 20-minute documentary/public safety announcement that they hope every parent will watch — with their children.

And Snap Inc. has hardened its push to remove illegal drug sales from its platform, “investing in proactive detection and collaboration with law enforcement to hold drug dealers accountable for the harm they are causing our community.”

The tidal wave they’re trying to stem is enormous.

‘One pill can kill’

In Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, according to the DEA, there were 2,234 drug-caused deaths in 2019, and 3,702 in 2020, a 59% increase. There were 755 deaths involving fentanyl in 2019, and 1,887 in 2020. That’s a 150% increase.

Data lags, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 4,825 Californians lost their lives to fentanyl in the year ending in February 2021, compared to 2,051 who died in the year ending in February 2020. That’s a 135% increase.

“DEA’s Public Safety Alert, the first in six years, seeks to raise public awareness of a significant nationwide surge in counterfeit pills that are mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs, deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, and are killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate,” the DEA said in its announcement of the “One Pill Can Kill” campaign.

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