PHOENIX — There are not many degrees of separation between most high school students and drug dealers, according to Douglas Coleman, DEA Special Agent in Charge in Phoenix.
"All you need is one kid that has one hook up, and he can buy 15 or 20 of those pills, and he can distribute them to 10 or 15 kids," said Coleman. "You're going to have overdose clusters."
Coleman said that's how most kids are getting drugs laced with fentanyl. In February, a Notre Dame Prep student overdosed and had to be revived by paramedics. Scottsdale police later arrested another student for having nine pills laced with fentanyl. One problem parents and law enforcement have to overcome is the perception that pills can't be that bad.
"We're Americans. We're a pill-popping society. We take a pill for every ailment, and I think that young people are used to the fact that 'I can take this because it looks like something we got from the doctor. I can pop it and I'm going to feel good, but it's not going to kill me,'" said Coleman.
According to the DEA, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. It was developed to help cancer patients manage the pain of their treatment, but is now widely abused because of the high it produces. Unlike real medication, Coleman said the drugs his agents are seizing are often mixed up in a garage in Mexico before they hit U.S. streets. And while one pill may have a small amount of fentanyl, the next in the same batch could be deadly.
"That's the problem. So very small quantities of these drugs 5, 10, 15 pills that a kid may have. You can overdose multiple people if it's the stronger version of the pill."
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, in 2016 more than 42,000 people in the United States died from overdosing. Almost half (about 19,000) of these deaths were related to fentanyl.
Coleman said kids have also found ways to order fentanyl online from China. Even a small amount is lucrative and hard for authorities to detect. That's also what makes it easy to get it across the border.
Tune in to ABC15 at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week for a three-part series as we dive deeper into the dangers of this deadly drug.