“One pill can kill,” said Glen Walsh, president of the California Narcotics Officers Association, who spoke at an American Legion Ronald Reagan community-offered presentation on October 20.
The day before, authorities has seized thousands of suspected fentanyl pills hidden in candy boxes at LAX. The pills were hidden in SweetTARTS, Skittles and Whoopers candy boxes. About 12,000 pills were seized by sheriff’s detectives and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Dealers have recently been disguising fentanyl in candy wrappers and manufacturing them in rainbow colors.
“Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in those under 30,” Walsh said, and noted that overdose deaths increased by 15 percent in 2021, with more than 107,600 dying last year.
How is it happening? “Marijuana is laced with fentanyl. Every drug is laced with fentanyl,” Walsh said. “Common everyday street drugs are laced with fentanyl.”
(The October 24, Wall Street Journal front page story was “Orders for Cocaine, Deaths by Fentanyl.”)
Walsh warns, “If you think you are purchasing certain medication from the internet, you could be playing Russian Roulette.”
He said the pills one might receive may be counterfeit (and contain fentanyl). “Cartels have copied lots of prescriptions,” Walsh said, and showed photos of fake oxytocin, Xanax, Adderall and Viagra, that had been laced with it.
Cartels make the pills look as authentic as possible. Currently, agents are seizing “rainbow death,” multicolored pills, such as those seized at the airport.
“Where you get your prescriptions is really important,” Walsh said.
REAL OR COUNTERFEIT?
Readers, take the quiz. Which is real, which are counterfeits? Your life could depend on making the right decision.
One of the problems with fentanyl is such a tiny amount can produce death. He explained that “Lethal dose for 50, means that 50 percent of those talking the drug will die. He said, “2 mg. can be a lethal dose and 1.3 mg. is the average fentanyl in a pill.”
People taking pills they’ve purchased illegally don’t know how much is in each pill.
“You can go into high schools and buy whatever you want,” Walsh said, and added “Drugs are an equal opportunity destroyer.”
How do you save kids, who might have accidentally ingested fentanyl, thinking they were taking something else?
Walsh said Narcan, which was developed in 1961, can temporarily save the person from dying, but “If you give someone Narcan, then make sure they get immediate medical assistance, because Narcan does not last as long as the opiate.” (American Legion Commander Jim Cragg said he went to CVS and was able to purchase Narcan, with no questions asked, but that the pharmacist has to prescribe it.)
It is not only kids who are faced with possibly taking a counterfeit pill laced with Fentanyl.
How’d we get here?
Fentanyl was developed in 1959 and used, intravenously in a hospital setting. It relieves pain, can produce euphoria and works as a central nervous system depressant. “It was all about pain management,” Walsh said, “and highly addictive.”
In the 1990s George Marquardt, a high school dropout and self-taught chemist, started manufacturing and distributing fentanyl.
Fentanyl, since it is manufactured in a lab, is a much more profitable way of getting people addicted than growing poppies, harvesting them and turning them into heroin.
Heroin users, unsuspectingly, started injecting fentanyl. According to the DEA, “126 East Coast addicts had died from shooting up fentanyl in 1991 and 1992.
“In Baltimore, 28 people overdosed on the drug in 1992. Twenty-three died that year in New York, where fentanyl was sold as ‘Tango and Cash.’ The deaths spread north to Connecticut and Boston, south to New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, and on to South Carolina.”
Marquardt was becoming rich, because a kilogram of fentanyl sold for “$240,000 to $640,000, depending on purity. A kilo of heroin sells for $100,000 to $200,000; cocaine, for $20,000 to $25,000. Except for a $10,000 rotary evaporator to dilute the drug, making fentanyl does not require enormously expensive equipment or chemicals,” Walsh said.
Eventually, Marquardt was found guilty of manufacturing the drug and sent to jail.
“Officials thought by putting him away, fentanyl would go away,” Marsh said, noting that wasn’t the case. “Now it’s the worst drug outbreak in history.”
China started manufacturing the drug sent to the U.S. According to an April 2019 New York Times Story “China Bans All Types of Fentanyl, Cutting Supply of Deadly Drug to U.S. and Fulfilling Pledge to Trump,” China said it would expand restrictions to all “fentanyl-related substances.”
According to the story, “the ban does not cover all of the precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl and its analogues, according to a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“That could be problematic because these chemicals are often sent from China to Mexico, where traffickers use them to make fentanyl that ends up in the United States. China has banned some of them, but not all, which the spokesman said would be nearly impossible.”
It appears that the majority of the fentanyl hitting the streets of the U.S. is now coming from Mexican drug cartels, with aid from chemicals from China.
What needs to change?
In addition to tightening the borders to stop the flow of drugs, “Prevention, education, enforcement and treatment,” Walsh said.
“We need a sound drug police in California,” he said. “Until we have a sound drug policy, we’ll continue to spiral out of control.
“Drugs ruin everyone,” Walsh said. “If you are addicted, you are enslaved.”
Proposition 47, which passed in 2014, reclassified drug possessions from felonies to misdemeanors. That took away the power that law enforcement officials had under Prop. 36 (eligible non-violent drug offenders could serve time in a drug treatment program instead of jail or prison).
Now officials do not have the power to “suggest” to those arrested, that a drug treatment program is a better option than a felony.
“No longer are officials teaching about how drugs are bad in classrooms,” he said, and noted that it might be time to get people, including parents, in classrooms to educate about drugs and its effects.
“Drugs are so prevalent,” he said. “And so easy to get.”
After his talk, the American Legion donated $500 to the California Narcotics Officers Association.
(Editor’s note: In the quiz above, the top photo for oxycodone and Adderall are the real drugs. The bottom photos are the counterfeit drugs. Are you still alive? Or did you pick the wrong one?)
An organization EndOverdose will supply anyone w NarCan and train you how to use it. They’re in Pasadena. You can get the training on line.
Scary stuff – where is the local, state, and federal government? Where are the policies to secure the border and restrict the flow of these poisons into our country? How many more have to die for some action to be taken?
Very affecting – thank you, Sue.
I attended Dr. Roger Crystal’s talk at Paul Revere MS last night about the dangers of fentanyl and the use of Narcan. He also said that Narcan (both brand name and generic) is available at any pharmacy without need for a prescription. However, my experience is that this is highly inconsistent. I cannot buy Narcan from online pharmacy (express scripts) without a prescription. I also went to the CVS on Wilshire for my flu shot and asked the pharmacist administering it if I could buy Narcan and he said only if I got a doctor to prescribe it. I don’t think all pharmacies are following the rules consistently.
If ok Sue – will share some of the information with the Senior Center Newsletter – just let me know
Absolutely, I want to get this message out to everybody. Thanks for sharing it.
Good to know. Anyone can also obtain Narcan at local drugstores. I heard the inventor speak about it last night at Revere and he said the product was easy for anyone to use–
According to him, if you see someone, under 50, unconscious on the street, one should assume its an opioid overdose, probably fentanyl.
I’ll have a follow up story next week.
good and important work, Thanks!