More than 80,000 people died from opioid overdoses last year, the majority from synthetic opioid substances such as fentanyl.
This narcotic pill, fentanyl, is a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin. In the past, if you were a drug addict, you had 5, 10, 15 years to try to beat the addiction, with this drug, you no longer have that chance. This new narcotic pill in the US is “reaping” on minors, having already caused hundreds of deaths.
Makayla Cox, a high school student in Virginia, is one of its victims. She was under the impression that fentanyl is a pain and antidepressant relief pill, and had gotten it from a friend. The girl died almost instantly.
That January night, after watching a movie with her mother, Shannon, Makayla went to her room with one of her dogs, a husky who often slept with her in bed.
But in the morning, Shannon found Makayla at the headboard, half seated. Orange liquid was flowing from her mouth and nose.
“She was stiff. I was shaking her, calling her name, calling 911,” Shannon told AFP. “Neighbors came, tried to bring her back, but it was too late. After that, I don’t remember much.”
More than 80,000 people died from opioid overdoses last year, the majority from synthetic substances such as fentanyl. This number is seven times more than ten years ago.
“It’s the most dangerous epidemic we’ve ever seen,” says Ray Donovan, a senior official with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). “Fentanyl is not like any other drug, it causes death instantly.”
The death toll took off, especially among the youth ranks, with alarming speed. In 2019, 493 American teenagers died of drug overdoses. In 2021, 1,146 died.
Many are procuring counterfeit drugs through social networking sites. Without knowing, they end up taking pills containing fentanyl.
To attract a younger clientele, traffickers use platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram. They often replace the names of the drugs they promote with emojis.
Oxycodone, a highly addictive drug, thus takes the form of a banana peeled in half. Xanax, sedative, the chocolate one.
The number of Americans who use drugs has been relatively stable in recent years, but what has changed is the dangers of the drugs, according to Wilson Compton, deputy director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Fentanyl is so powerful that less than a gram of it often makes the difference between life and death.
“It takes very small amounts to turn it into a poison that stops you breathing,” Mr Compton told AFP.
In the US, most of the fentanyl trafficked illegally is manufactured by Mexican drug cartels, with raw materials coming from China.
This drug is profitable for criminal gangs: the potency of fentanyl is such that a smaller dose is sufficient for each pill.
A kilogram of the pure product, worth about $12,000, is transformed into half a million pills, which can be transported more easily, and sold for as much as $30 each.
Last year, the DEA announced that it had seized nearly seven tons of fentanyl — enough to kill all Americans. Four pills out of ten contained a lethal dose.
In the entrance hall of the headquarters of the drug enforcement agency, photos of the “faces of fentanyl” fill the walls. The collection of portraits pays tribute to around ten people whose lives have recently been cut short by drugs.
Among them, one portrait is captioned “Makayla — 16 years old forever.”
An exemplary student, a member of a pom-pom troupe, the teenager said she enjoyed drawing, playing with her dogs and wanted to study law, said her mother, Shannon Doyle, 41.
After her parents’ divorce, she had anxiety problems, exacerbated by the pandemic.
Last summer, a friend introduced her to counterfeit drugs.
The blue pills found in her bed were actually all fentanyl. A police investigation is ongoing, but so far no arrests have been made.
“In the past, if you were a drug addict, you had 5, 10, 15 years to try to beat the addiction,” explained Shannon Doyle at her home in Virginia Beach, a seaside town about 330 kilometers south of Washington.
“You don’t have that chance anymore,” she added bitterly.
The DEA has begun a prevention and awareness campaign about the dangers of fentanyl. There are initiatives to increase the availability of naxolone, an antidote that can save the life of someone who has overdosed.
Makayla’s ashes are in her room, where Shannon always glances, morning and night, as if her daughter is still alive.
In her name, she created a foundation whose mission is to prevent similar tragedies: it is a way of managing her grief, she admits.
Her 16 years old best friend, Cadence Blanchard, is living her first summer without her. She tries to make the dreams they shared come true: to get a license and go driving to the beach.
But for Makayla, “that future will never come true,” “never fulfilling the plans we made together,” she says.
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