Makayla Cox, a high school student from Virginia, thought she was taking pain and anxiety medication that a friend had gotten her.
Instead, the pill she took two weeks after her 16th birthday was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, which killed her almost immediately.
Makayla looked fine when she went to her room one night in January after watching a “Harry Potter” movie.
But when her mother Shannon entered her room the next morning, she found the young woman partially seated, propped up against the headboard with orange fluid coming out of her nose and mouth.
“She was stiff. I shook her, called her name, called 911,” says Shannon Doyle, 41, AFP at her Virginia Beach home.
“My neighbors came and we did CPR [ressuscitao cardiopulmonar], but it was too late. After that, I don’t remember much,” she says.
The opioid crisis in the United States has reached catastrophic proportions, with more than 80,000 overdose deaths last year, mostly caused by illicit synthetics like fentanyl.
more than seven times the number recorded a decade ago.
“This is the most dangerous epidemic we’ve ever seen,” says Ray Donovan, director of operations for the US drug enforcement agency, the DEA.
“Fentanyl is not like other illicit narcotics, instantly deadly,” he points out.
Deaths are increasing particularly rapidly among young people, who obtain medicines on social media with counterfeit prescriptions. The pills they buy are either blended or made from fentanyl.
In 2019, 493 teenagers died from overdoses. In 2021, the number was 1,146.
– Drugs and emoticons –
Drug dealers reach teenagers through Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram and other apps, using emoticons as codes.
Oxycodone, another opiate, can be advertised as a half-peeled banana; Xanax, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, like a chocolate bar; and Adderall, an amphetamine that acts as a stimulant, like a train.
The number of Americans who use drugs has remained the same in recent years, but the degree of lethality has changed, according to Wilson Compton, deputy director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.
A cup of heroin is equivalent to a tablespoon of fentanyl, and less than a gram can mean the difference between life and death.
Most of the illicit fentanyl circulating in the United States is manufactured in the clandestine laboratories of the Mexican drug cartels, using chemicals shipped from China.
Because fentanyl is so much more potent, it takes a lot less to fill a pill, which means more supplies and profits for the cartels.
A kilo of pure fentanyl can cost up to $12,000 and be made into half a million pills that will sell for $30 each, worth millions of dollars, explains Donovan.
In addition, it is easier to traffic pills.
Last year, the DEA seized nearly seven tons of fentanyl, enough to kill every American.
Four out of 10 pills seized contained lethal amounts of fentanyl.
– “A pill can kill” –
In a hallway at DEA headquarters, photographs titled “The Faces of Fentanyl” are displayed. There are dozens of people who have lost their lives recently because of this drug.
“Makayla. 16 forever,” says one.
The blue pills found in the bed of this outstanding student and “cheerleader” were 100% fentanyl. The police are investigating, but no arrests have been made so far.
The DEA launched a campaign last year called “One Pill Can Kill” to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl.
There are also efforts across the country to make naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdose, more affordable.
Shannon created a foundation in Makayla’s name to help prevent tragedies like her daughter’s. her way of dealing with grief.