JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — They're colorful, they're small, and some even look like candy.
“This does not look like it might be the last one that you take if you just take one,” Agnes Winokur, Laboratory Director for the DEA’s Southeast Laboratory said.
They're designed to deceive.
“This is just as dangerous as when you think of a gun being fired at that child,” Winokur said.
Counterfeit pills that look identical to prescription Oxycodone, Adderall and Xanax are being laced with illicit fentanyl and flooding the country.
“By looking at a tablet, you cannot tell if it's real,” Winokur said.
Just two milligrams, a tiny amount that can fit on the tip of a pencil, can be lethal.
“We are seeing it as high as eight milligrams per tablet, which is absolutely crazy in terms of the danger,” Winokur said.
She took us behind the scenes to show us what she is seeing.
“There’s definitely been an increase of suspected fentanyl pills, suspected fentanyl kilos, suspected fentanyl powders, there has definitely been an increase, you know, in the past two years,” Winokur said.
Her team analyzes drugs and pills seized by federal agencies across five states and the Caribbean.
What do parents need to know when it comes to fentanyl?
“As a parent myself, in my own son's school they had a young lady who overdosed, and it's very sad when I hear that those tablets are masked. The danger is masked,” Winokur said. “It doesn't say this tablet, it could be your last. This could be the last day of your life. It doesn't say that. They don't know this.”
Over the span of three and a half months, from May through September 2022, the DEA says it seized nearly 10,000 fentanyl pills in Florida and more than a kilo of fentanyl. That amount could potentially kill more than half a million people.
Marie Lopez is a senior forensic chemist with the DEA and a mom.
“It’s so dangerous that only one pill can kill you,” Lopez said.
She tells her kids not to take a pill from anyone, not even from their friends.
“They have the same logo. You think maybe this is Oxy and this is not. No, they are all fentanyl,” Lopez said as she analyzes samples.
This lab is also seeing more rainbow fentanyl.
“It's because of those rainbow colors. It makes it that feeling of something that is safe. Just because it resembles candy,” Winokur said. “Many of the drug overdoses that are happening right now are largely due to a fentanyl-related drug overdose, but also methamphetamine is high up there with drug overdoses. A lot of the meth is being packaged using what appears to be candy, traditional candy like Skittles, but what it has in these bags is powder.”
Winokur says it makes her angry that children are being targeted.
“It’s very disturbing but it also just fuels me to go out there and keep talking and reaching out to the public to make them aware,” Winokur said. “What is very clear is that they are trying to create new addicts from our children. And we have to stop it.”
And awareness she believes is one of the best ways to do that.
“We stop this epidemic together. And that's through education,” Winokur said. “Do not take a chance on a pill that you do not know where it comes from. It's not worth it. That may be the last page in your book.”
For resources on how to talk to your children about fentanyl and protect them click here.