LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — More people in southern Nevada died last year from fentanyl overdoses than ever before — fueled by unsuspecting buyers ingesting a dose of death in pill form.
Drug cartels are manufacturing Illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50-to-100 times more potent than morphine, and combining it with other drugs. Just a few grains are deadly.
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration launched its “One pill can kill” campaign as a warning. The pills are often blue and have “M” and “30” stamped on them.
In 2021, 226 people in Clark County died from a fentanyl overdose, the Southern Nevada Health District said. Six of those deaths were children under the age of 18.
As part of its ongoing work to crack down on drug trends, the DEA is focusing on finding the source and holding dealers and cartels accountable.
The 8 News Now I-Team followed along as dealers made a recent undercover buy. An agent responded to an online ad, which was offering pain pills. That agent then agreed to meet the drug dealer in the middle of the day in downtown Las Vegas.
An entire team takes part in the transaction, most of them providing cover in case something goes wrong.
The cartels and dealers are selling their products as if they were misused prescription medications. What a buyer may suspect is an opioid or brand-name product is actually fentanyl mixed with other products.,
“Why would a drug cartel want to sell something that’s going to kill their user?” the I-Team’s David Charns asked DEA Las Vegas Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge Cindy Marx.
“I ‘ve heard a lot of responses of, ‘I trust my dealer,’” Marx said. “What does that mean? Your dealer does not even know what is in it because it gets passed and passed and by the time it gets to you, nobody knows what is in it because they did not make it.”
Some of the product is manufactured in clandestine labs in Mexico. Others are pressed right in the Las Vegas valley. As Marx put it, those making these dangerous pills are mixing chemicals in unknown quantities.
“A good friend of mine uses the analogy of baking chocolate chip cookies,” she said, adding one cookie could have many more chocolate chips than the others.
“You might take one and you’re not going to die from it, but you take that second one, that’s what’s going to do it,” she said.
The undercover tradeoff takes less than a minute. Investigators then returned to their headquarters to bag the evidence: a few of the blue pills.
“We don’t even open it, just because it’s that dangerous,” an undercover agent told the I-Team.
As the DEA builds its case, they will buy from this seller multiple times, working to find who is supplying him.
“If a doctor didn’t prescribe it to you, don’t take it,” Marx said. “You’re gambling with your life and it’s not a fun game to say, ‘Oh let’s see what this does, let’s see how I feel,’ because you’re probably going to die.”
In recent months, DEA agents have pulled thousands of suspected fentanyl pills off Las Vegas valley streets.
Police and prosecutors have charged several young people over the past few months with second-degree murder charges in connection with the fentanyl poisoning deaths of other young people.