DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The Drug Enforcement Administration's Dallas field office met with local law enforcement, school districts, and hospitals Thursday, discussing the growing impact of fentanyl on students and communities in North Texas.
The roundtable had been planned, but follows the Spring Break deaths of two teenagers in Venus this month, and a sense of urgency from federal agents as counterfeit pills containing fatal amounts of the drug are becoming more prevalent in North Texas.
"As a parent, and as a concerned citizen, you have to pay attention," said Eduardo Chavez, the special agent in charge at the DEA's Dallas field office. "You have to have these discussions with your children."
Chavez said for several years most of the counterfeit pills law enforcement tracked were traveling through Texas, destined for states to the north and east. That changed in mid-2019, with North Texas becoming the destination.
During one seizure in 2020, the DEA Dallas found 16.2 kg or fentanyl specifically destined for the region. It would have been enough for more than 8-milion lethal doses Chavez said, one for nearly every person in North Texas.
"It is simply a very high profit business," he said. "Raw fentanyl, clandestinely made in China and brought to Mexico, or shipped via the dark web to neighborhoods here in the U.S. You need a very little amount to go a long way."
The pills resemble prescription pain killers like oxycodone. They are often so well made, only a lab test can determine which one is real.
The counterfeit pills though, use fentanyl to achieve the desired effect for the user. It can be lethal in amounts as small as 2mg. Being made in clandestine labs, pills can contain varying amounts. Experienced users used to taking two or three prescription pills, can also end up ingesting a lethal amount of fentanyl, if they take multiple counterfeit pills at one time.
Public data on deaths related at least in part to fentanyl, shows a surge in the last year.
In 2019, there were five related deaths in Denton County, nine in Tarrant and 10 in Collin.
By 2020, Collin County numbers more than tripled to 33. Denton County more than quadrupled, to 21. Tarrant County jumped to 95.
MedStar, an ambulance service provider in Tarrant County, had 152 unintentional overdose calls between March 2019 and February 2020, where paramedics administered Narcan, a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
For the most recent 12 months starting in March 2020, that number climbed to 236.
The pill form also provides a familiarity to new users Chavez said. They don't have to smoke or inject anything, just swallow it, which they've done with safe prescription medication for years.
"All of us in North Texas have to throw out the stereotype of what somebody who is addicted to drugs looks like," he said. "It is the person who is line with you at the grocery store. It is perhaps one of your family members. It is not the outliers."
Education and treatment will be key tools he said to combat the problem, along with enforcement in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies.
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