There’s a crisis happening on the streets of America, disguised as prescription pills but hiding a lethal secret.
Fentanyl kills more Americans than any other drug.
Experts on the frontline of the fight say the drug is often pressed into fake pills, which are nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing.
“No matter what (drug) they’re doing, no matter what they think they’re taking, there’s fentanyl in all of it. And that’s what's scary about it,” said Jessica Betten, Alumni Director for Justin’s Place Recovery Program, part of the St. Matthews House in Collier County.
Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal, according to the Center for Disease Control. That’s nearly 50 times more potent that heroin.
“Everything’s got fentanyl in it,” said Betten. “We used to say it was life and death, now it is life or death.”
Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18-45.
At the DEA’s Miami Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Deanne Reuter says the fentanyl is created in China, then shipped to Mexico where the cartels turn it into fake pills.
The DEA showed Fox 4 Investigates a bag of seized pills which were designed to look like oxycodone, but had a lethal amount of fentanyl.
“They look identical. Most of the time you cannot tell the difference between the two pills,” said Reuter. “What you’re getting from your doctor is pharmaceutical grade fentanyl. What people are getting on the street is not. It’s mixed in a lab in Mexico in the jungle.”
Last year, 14 thousand pounds of fentanyl was seized along the US-Mexico border. That's enough to kill every person in the country.
“In the past we’ve always said the dangers of drugs to our kids and people weren’t dying. People are dying now,” said Reuter. “We need to have these serious conversations.”
During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden called for harsher penalties for fentanyl traffickers and increased scanning technology at border crossings to keep fentanyl from being smuggled into the U.S.