CEDAR PARK, Texas - In early 2020, law enforcement in Cedar Park started seeing a number of drug overdoses - some of which were fatal.
It was a startling trend that motivated police to crack down.
Most recently, a year-long investigation culminated in the arrest of 12 people on federal indictments for distributing counterfeit pills across Central Texas.
According to the DEA, more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were discovered nationwide in 2021. The number is double what was confiscated in 2019 and 2020 combined.
This is what law enforcement can use to detect counterfeit pills.
According to an analysis of U.S. government data, fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 45.
Along with an increase in the amount of counterfeit pills on the market, there is another trend being noticed by law enforcement - social media use.
The Cedar Park case was no exception.
"Social media has always been a part of that particular community," said Tyson Hodges, assistant special agent in charge at the DEA Austin District Office. "But in the past couple years, it seems like it’s started to increase and become more popular."
Cases like these are why the DEA launched a campaign called "One Pill Can Kill."
Counterfeit pills are often disguised as Oxycontin, Vicodin, Xanax or even Adderall. And now, access to them is easier than ever – and sometimes – deadly. According to findings by the DEA, four in ten fentanyl-laced pills contain a lethal dose.
"To give you an example, if you take three or four grains of salt and put them on a table, the equivalent is enough to kill an individual," said Hodges.
In Becky Stewart’s case, one pill did kill. Her son, Cameron, a Leander High School graduate, died of a drug overdose on March 20, 2021.
19 years old at the time, Cameron had purchased what he thought was Valium off Snapchat.
"Truly one pill killed him," said Stewart. "He went to sleep and never woke up."
Since the loss of her son, it’s been Stewart’s goal to raise awareness among teens by speaking at high schools across Texas. She got involved with a California-based nonprofit Song For Charlie, and is also in the middle of building a website for her own endeavor that she’s dubbed "A Change For Cam."
For Stewart, part of raising awareness is also getting the word out to parents who may not realize the access that exists in the age of social media.
"You could have your child sitting next to you on the couch in your living room talking to a drug dealer," said Stewart. "Your drug dealer is essentially in your living room."
Photo of counterfeit pills recently confiscated in Texas (courtesy: DEA)
Stewart said the news of the arrests in Cedar Park brought mixed feelings.
"I might not ever know if any of them were tied to Cameron's death, and the reality is I may not ever know who did this," said Stewart. "But if I can save one parent from going through the same thing I’ve gone through, then Cameron didn’t die in vain."
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Fentanyl-induced overdoses increasing, more drugs being laced with it
Fentanyl overdoses become No. 1 cause of death among US adults, ages 18-45: 'A national emergency'
Fake prescription pills containing fentanyl killing Americans at 'unprecedented rate,' DEA says
Texas seized enough fentanyl to kill 200 million people this year alone, officials say
Two arrested in Cedar Park in connection with fentanyl distribution
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