25 Investigates: DEA’s new approach to warning young people on dangers of counterfeit pills

BOSTON — According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there are on average 22 teenagers between the age of 14-18 lost every week to drug-related deaths in the United States. Since 2022, 25 Investigates has followed the efforts to educate young people and their families about the risk of counterfeit pills sold online often laced with deadly fentanyl. The message ‘one pill can kill’.

“Right now, we are truly in a race to save lives,” said John DeLena, Associate Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. [DEA]

Speaking one-on-one with Anchor and Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh, DeLena says all families should be on high alert.

“We lost 109,000 Americans last year to drug poisoning and drug overdose deaths,” DeLena said. “So, there’s never been a more critical time for us to get this message out there.”

The pills, and counterfeit prescription drugs are sold online, often through social media sites.

In November 2022, 25 Investigates took you inside an undisclosed Massachusetts warehouse where DEA investigators dismantled seized pill presses that make these bogus pills.

And the battle to get them off the streets continues every day.

“DEA seized 79 million fake pills last year, made with fentanyl,” DeLena said.

“The numbers go up a little bit. They come down a little bit. It’s still too many. We’re experiencing essentially a 911 every 11 days. That’s how much death that we’re seeing.”

So DeLena says the DEA is trying a new approach to reach young people, meeting them where they are, playing video games.

This college esports event — One Pill Can Kill Game Over Tournament — gives the administration a new avenue to get out the warning about the dangerous amount of fentanyl in fake pills.

The latest live event coming to New England this week. And DeLena hopes there’s one simple takeaway.

“You can’t you cannot buy legitimate prescription medication on social media.”

“This can happen to anyone. This can happen to any family. This can happen to any person,” said Fiona Firine who lost her son Cameron to fentanyl poisoning.

He was battling substance abuse disorder. In 2018 he relapsed and took what he thought was an oxycontin.

“He didn’t have a prayer. He didn’t have a prayer. If that had been oxycontin, it would have been a slip. But he wouldn’t have lost his life,” she told Kavanaugh.

“That’s why you hear me use the term poisoning. You know, we know that people are dying and never had ever intended to take fentanyl,” DeLena said.

Deaths that DeLena says can be prevented through conversation and education.

College teams from across New England will compete on Thursday in Worcester. Clark University is hosting the event. It is not open to the public, but anyone can watch it live on Twitch Thursday from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. It will be an interactive watch, during which viewers can compete in some online games for prizes.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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