SHAWNEE, Kan. — On Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the results of a major drug enforcement surge when it comes to battling fake prescription pills. Those pills are often laced with fentanyl.
The DEA confirmed the surge is directly tied to the Mexican drug cartel. Since September, the agency seized more than 1,500 pounds of fentanyl and over eight million fake prescription pills.
The KSHB 41 I-Team has been looking into how serious the fentanyl problem is in the Kansas City metro area. A Shawnee family who recently lost their teenage son, Cooper Davis, spoke about the epidemic and how it's impacted them.
“Any time you put a pill in your mouth that wasn’t prescribed by your doctor, you are playing roulette," Libby Davis said.
Libby Davis and her husband, Randy, work in health care. As a nurse anesthetist, Randy Davis handles fentanyl every day for his job.
“That was difficult for me. That a drug I give every day killed my son," Randy Davis said.
Nearly four months ago, Cooper's parents got a call from Shawnee police saying their son was having a medical emergency. When they got there, paramedics were trying to bring him back to life.
Weeks later, his parents said a toxicology report revealed Cooper had three things in his system: caffeine, Narcan and fentanyl.
“Sadly, we have now been introduced to a world of parents who have lost children to fentanyl pills," Libby Davis said.
The Davises said Cooper only took half of what he thought was a Percocet pill.
They told the KSHB 41 I-Team four boys, including Cooper, bought two counterfeit pills from a dealer they had done business with in the past.
His parents knew Cooper had experimented.
“Cooper had the mentality of, 'It’ll never happen to me,' right? It’ll never happen to me, but it did and we want to try to reach the kids," Libby Davis said.
“What we’re seeing in our investigations is those chemicals used to make fentanyl are coming out of China, going into Mexico where they have these clandestine labs," DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Rogeana Patterson-King said.
It's been showing up all over the United States, including the Kansas City metro area.
Patterson-King said fentanyl appeals to drug dealers because it's inexpensive and profitable.
There's now been a surge in counterfeit pills with fentanyl. Because of that, the agency issued a public safety alert about fake prescription pills with fentanyl. It's the first in six years.
“And these people that are doing this, I consider them to be murderers because they’re intentionally putting this stuff in there that they know is highly addictive and deadly to people," Patterson-King said.
The DEA said fentanyl is so dangerous that a dose small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil could kill anyone who takes it.
“It’s scary. It’s scary," Patterson-King said.
Just this year, the DEA St. Louis Division seized 170 kilograms of fentanyl. That's almost five times more than 2018. The division includes Missouri, Kansas and southern Illinois.
To protect agents, the DEA uses an air purifying system they call "the hood."
Any time they have a package they think contains fentanyl, agents use the system while wearing gloves and a mask.
“We’re seeing fentanyl in everything from your marijuana, your meth, cocaine, your heroin, and these counterfeit pills," Patterson-King said.
The DEA told the KSHB 41 I-Team two out of every five fake pills with fentanyl have a potentially lethal dose.
For the Kansas City metro area, the agency said fentanyl is coming through the mail or being driven from the southwest border.
"There’s no experimenting because that one time experimenting could be the time that you lose your life," Patterson-King said.
“We want everyone to understand how dangerous it is and what a risk it is if you take a pill that wasn’t prescribed by your doctor," Libby Davis said.
Since their son's death, the Davises created the "Keepin Clean With Coop" campaign. It's a pledge for students to stay away from drugs.
“Out of all of this, our mission is to just make something good happen," Libby Davis said.
“The message is just make sure they’re aware of the danger. That’s what I think is important," Randy Davis said.
The Davises want justice, but what that looks like is a bit complex.
“We just want this off the streets. Whatever that means. If that means taking down the person that Cooper and his friends purchased these pills from and beyond, the people that supply them to the dealers. We just want the dangerous pills taken off the streets," Libby Davis said.
If you need help finding treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a behavioral health treatment services locator.