VIRGINIA BEACH: Makayla Cox, a high school student from the US state of Virginia, thought she was taking medication her friend had obtained to treat pain and anxiety.
Instead, the pill she took two weeks after her sixteenth birthday was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin. It killed her almost instantly.
After watching a movie – a ‘Harry Potter’ prequel – with her mother Shannon one evening in January, Makayla seemed fine as she headed to her bedroom with her husky dog who often slept on her bed.
But when Shannon entered Makayla’s room the next morning, she found her partially seated, perched against the headboard, orange fluid oozing from her nose and mouth.
“She was stiff. I shook her, I called her name, I called 911,” Shannon told AFP. “My neighbors came and performed CPR, but it was too late. After that, I don’t remember much.
The opioid crisis in the United States has reached catastrophic proportions, with more than 80,000 people dying of opioid overdoses last year, most from illicit synthetics such as fentanyl – more than seven times the number of ten years ago.
“This is the most dangerous outbreak we’ve seen,” said Ray Donovan, chief of operations at the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). “Fentanyl is not like any other illicit narcotic, it is instantly deadly.”
And deaths are rising particularly rapidly among young people, who source counterfeit prescription drugs through social media. Unbeknownst to them, the pills are either mixed or made with fentanyl.
In 2019, 493 American teenagers died from drug overdoses, in 2021 the figure was 1,146.
– Dealerships are looking for teens through apps –
Drug dealers reach teens on apps like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram and others, often using emojis as their code.
Oxycodone, an opioid, can be advertised as a half-peeled banana, Xanax, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, can be advertised as a chocolate bar, and Adderall, an amphetamine that acts as a stimulant, as a train.
Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the number of Americans using drugs has remained largely the same in recent years, but what has changed is how deadly they have become.
A cup of heroin is equivalent to a teaspoon of fentanyl, and less than a gram can mean the difference between life and death.
“It takes very small amounts to be a poison that can stop someone breathing,” Compton told AFP in an interview.
Most of the illicit fentanyl in the United States is made by Mexican drug cartels in clandestine labs from chemicals shipped from China.
Because fentanyl is so much more potent, it takes so much less to fill a pill, which translates into more supply and more profit for the cartels.
A kilogram of pure fentanyl can be purchased for up to $12,000, squeezed into half a million pills that will sell for up to $30 each, fetching millions of dollars, Donovan said. And it’s also much easier to smuggle in pill form.
Last year, the DEA seized 15,000 pounds (nearly seven tons) of fentanyl – enough to kill every American. Four out of 10 pills seized contain lethal amounts of fentanyl.
– ‘A pill can kill’ –
At the agency’s headquarters, a collection of photographs titled “Faces of Fentanyl” hangs in the hallway. It features dozens of portraits of people who have recently lost their lives to fentanyl. One of them reads “Makayla. Forever 16.
An honor roll student and cheerleader, Makayla enjoyed painting, cuddling her two huskies, Maize and Malenkai, and planned to go to college to study law, said her mother Shannon Doyle, 41, who works as a paralegal in a loan. service company.
Makayla had struggled with anxiety after her parents’ divorce, but things got worse during the pandemic.
Last summer, she started a job at a water park, where she met a friend who introduced her to counterfeit prescription drugs.
The blue pills found in Makayla’s bed turned out to be 100% fentanyl. Police are investigating, but so far no arrests have been made.
“Before, when you were addicted to drugs, you had five, 10, 15 years to try to overcome your addiction and get help and turn your life around,” Shannon said at her home in Virginia Beach, a town on the Atlantic Coast some 240 miles (400 kilometers) south of the US capital.
“You don’t have that chance anymore.”
Last year, the DEA launched a campaign called “A Pill Can Kill” to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl, and efforts are underway across America to return naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. , more readily available, including in schools.
Makayla’s ashes are in her room, and Shannon still peeks around the room every morning and night, as she did when her daughter was alive.
She set up a foundation in Makayla’s name to help prevent similar tragedies – a way, she says, to help him cope with his grief.
Makayla’s best friend, 16-year-old Kaydence Blanchard, spends the summer without her, trying to fulfill the girls’ dream of getting a driver’s license and driving to the beach.
But for Makayla “the future will never happen,” Blanchard said. “She will never complete any of the plans we had together.” -AFP