LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Inside the federal building in downtown Los Angeles, Drug Enforcement Administration agents scour the internet using code words to find drug dealers, many of whom have moved their sales online.
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“Just like those big box stores, they’ve moved to online sales,” a male DEA agent said. “I imagine everybody else is gonna be doing the same thing. The faster they get their word out about their product, the easier it is, the more sales they can get.”
Just a few minutes into the search, the agents got a hit on one website.
“I basically have a bunch of sellers willing to sell me M30 pills,” a female agent said.
Posing as a buyer, the undercover agent sends a text message to a suspected dealer to purchase counterfeit oxycontin, which agents said was most likely fentanyl.
“I’m going to ask, ‘Can get 10 blues,'” the female agent said. “That’s it, and then it’s just a waiting game from there.”
Fentanyl is not only more potent, but also more deadly. Just this month, the 16-year-old son of television host Dr. Laura Berman died from an apparent fentanyl overdose after allegedly purchasing drugs through Snapchat.
“The reality is that there’s none of the legitimate medicine in these drugs,” Special Agent Bill Bodner said. “These drugs are made with fentanyl and some other inner substances, and they’re made to look exactly like the prescription pills — down to the shape, the size, the color, the stamps or the imprints on the actual pills themselves.”
Bodner said fentanyl is driving up overdose deaths in L.A. County and that teens are especially vulnerable, because they don’t know what they’re getting.READ MORE: 3 Killed, 6 Injured In Shooting At Michigan High School
There were 146 reported overdose deaths in 15 to 24 year old males that involved fentanyl between November 2019 and October 2020. Authorities said they expect the number to rise even more as the pandemic continues.
“We have fentanyl, a drug that’s 50 times more powerful than heroin,” Bodner said. “It’s available in every bedroom and every living room, because everyone has a smartphone and you can get it delivered to your house and it looks like a very innocuous pill.”
According to DEA agents, it takes a mere two milligrams of fentanyl — the size of two grains of salt — to kill someone.
“We need to do more, but also social media sites do more,” Bodner said. “And guess what? Parents also have to do more.”
Social media companies, like Snapchat, say they have zero tolerance for illegal drug activity and that they are constantly improving their apps to detect illicit sales.
“It’s ongoing, it’s always changing,” the male DEA agent said. “It’s difficult.”
Authorities in L.A. County seized more than 1.2 million counterfeit pills that contained fentanyl in 2020, a tenfold increase since 2017. And with savvy dealers continually finding new ways to market the drug, fentanyl has become the primary driver behind the ongoing opioid crisis.
“They are endangering the children in our community,” Bodner said.MORE NEWS: Skiers Rejoice: Bear Mountain, Snow Summit To Open Thursday
The DEA says each drug case takes months — sometimes an entire year — to build, but they’re not just going after dealers. Agents are going after distributors and suppliers. They say most of the pills are being manufactured in Mexico.