CHICAGO (WGN) — An alarming trend has surfaced across the country: teens dying after ingesting fake pills that are laced with the deadly synthetic drug fentanyl. Equally as alarming is where they are buying the drugs — online sites that in some cases are directly marketing to teens.
In February, Relationship expert and TV host Dr. Laura Berman revealed that her 16-year-old son died after buying fake prescription pills online. It turns out he’s not alone.
More drug dealers are using social media platforms and fake online pharmacies to sell directly to teens.
Fast forward to today, law enforcement and the public are getting a sense of the large number of fake pills that are flooding the country, and teens are the prime target. NewsNation affiliate WGN Investigates found websites and Instagram accounts operating openly.
It’s been three months since their son’s death. The Bermans are working with Congress, and they’ve developed a PSA to get the public’s attention.
And they’re not being held accountable.
“It’s a situation where police are overwhelmed,” Berman’s husband, Sam Champman said.
WGN Investigates recently visited a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Chicago to get a look at the fake pills that have been intercepted. Many of the drugs were shipped via mail from India, Mexico, and China.
In all, federal officials seized 3,892 pounds of fake pills last year, up 70% from 2019. So far this year, the count stands at 2,576 pounds, putting them on pace to surpass last year’s mark.
“They look legitimate, they look real,” said Bob Bell, DEA’s special agent in charge in Chicago. “Purchasing these drugs is just as dangerous as buying drugs on the street. There’s no difference.”
The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies estimates that 35,000 digital pharmacies are operating on the internet every day. An estimated 96% are operating illegally.
The DEA is one of the lead organizations tackling the issue, shutting down websites and working to arrest those behind them.
But Berman says more can be done.
She and her husband are pushing for all social media platforms to allow safety apps so that parents can track what their child is doing on the platforms.
Some platforms allow the safety apps. Some like TikTok and Snapchat do not.
“The social media companies lean on the fact that they can’t be charged with anything because of the privacy laws,” Berman said. “And all they would need to do is put on their website if you use this to break the law, your privacy will not be protected.”