SHAWNEE, Kan. — An alarming increase in overdoses from counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue its first public safety announcement in six years.
It says one pill can kill and never take any drugs that do not come from a reputable pharmacy.
A Shawnee family is one of almost 100,000 families suffering this year from what the DEA calls an epidemic.
Sixteen-year-old Cooper Davis was an adventurous kid who wanted to go the fastest, jump the highest and had an attraction to dangerous sports. Someone who never knew a stranger, he lit up every room he walked into, did silly things just to be funny and was the life of the party. He was also a recreational drug user.
“We tried to convince him that he would not always know what he was being given, that there was just too many unknowns out there and what he was doing was dangerous,” said Cooper’s mom Libby Davis. “But Cooper always had the mentality of it will never happen to me. He always thought he was invincible in all the risk-taking things he would do.”
On Aug. 29, Libby Davis got a phone call she feared. Her son was at a friend’s house and was having a medical emergency. When she arrived, emergency crews were trying to save his life.
“We had to watch him get wheeled out of that house with the machine violently pumping his chest,” Davis said through her tears. “It’s a sight that we don’t want any other parents to have to see.”
As hard as they tried, doctors could not save Cooper and his mom said her final words to her son before he slipped away.
“We said we loved him, “Davis said. “No matter how hard it could be sometimes, you know when he wasn’t making the decision that we wanted him to make, we always loved him.”
Just before he died, Cooper sent a picture to a friend of two blue pills in a baggie that he believed to be Percocet. One was most likely laced with a fatal dose of fentanyl. Cooper took one and died, his friend took the other and survived.
“The tip of a pencil, that small amount is the amount of fentanyl that can kill you, that’s in these pills. So it’s like a milligram amount,” said Rogeana Patterson-King, DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Kansas. “One pill can kill and your life is too important to play Russian roulette with it.”
Ninety-three thousand people died of these types of overdoses last year, which is a 30% increase. So far this year, the DEA has seized more than 9.6 million deadly counterfeit pills, which is more then the previous two years combined. Two out of five fake pills coming into the country are laced with fatal doses of fentanyl.
Patterson-King likens the production process to making a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
“You put like, a bunch of your chocolate chips into your batter and when you cook them, you think it’s all like mixed up evenly, but you may get one that has three chocolate chips and one of them has 10,” she said. “That’s the same way they’re doing in these labs when they’re making these counterfeit pills there.”
Counterfeit pills are easy to get. Davis believes her son bought his drugs from someone on Snapchat, a social media platform also named by the DEA as a problem.
“They know what’s happening and I don’t feel like they’re doing enough to not allow their app to be the avenue to distribute drugs,” Davis said.
A spokesperson for Snap, Inc, the company that owns and operates Snapchat said in a statement:
“As the devastating fentanyl epidemic continues, we are committed to doing everything we can to fight it on Snapchat. We strictly prohibit drug-related activity on our platform, aggressively enforce against these violations, and support law enforcement in their investigations. We are focused on both raising awareness of the dangers of fentanyl with young people directly in our app and significantly improving our operational work to combat drug dealers on our platform.
“In recent months, we have continued to strengthen our machine learning tools for proactively detecting drug-related activity, and work with the DEA and other third party experts to keep these efforts up-to-date as behaviors evolve. We have an important message for drug dealers: you are not welcome on Snapchat. If we detect drug dealer activity, we will delete your account and may also provide it to law enforcement.”
The pill that killed Cooper Davis also broke the hearts of so many people who knew and loved him. His mom is finding some strength and healing in sharing his story and said, “because we need something good to happen. We want to use Cooper’s story to save lives.”
The DEA has set up a website where people can go for resources.