(Omaha) -- Besides COVID-19, students returning to school this fall face a perennial health risk: drug addiction.
And, officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration are warning parents of a new, lethal threat involving synthetic drugs. Justin King is special agent in charge of the DEA's Omaha office, which covers five states: Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Speaking on KMA's "Morning Line" program Friday morning, King says the evolving drug threat is more significant than it was 20 years ago, and touching children at a younger age.
"With the social media, and the types of drugs out there," said King, "and the way information is shared, and the shipping of drugs through parcels and other ways, we really see that the threat has gone up. We really see that significantly now in these counterfeit pills that are coming across that are marketed to look like a prescription medication, but they really contain a lethal dose of fentanyl in them."
Over the past two years, King says the DEA has seen a surge in pills containing not only fentanyl but also methamphetamine. Between 2019 and 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a nearly 30% increase in drug overdose deaths. More than 90,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020, and nearly 61% of these deaths involved synthetic opioids including fentanyl. King says drug traffickers are flooding the market with synthetic drugs. He adds the social media is a contributing factor in drug sales.
"We see it bought off the dark web," he said. "We brought in the country through normal trafficking ways. We see it coming in parcels, because so many people get things delivered now. A large number of pills can be stored in a small area. So, it's just a marketing ploy by the drug trafficking organizations to flood the market. With more availability, there's more chance that they are exposed to it."
King adds children are also influenced by mixed media messages regarding drug usage.
"We're seeing a lot of children now that are more exposed to people that have attitudes towards drugs that aren't as stigmitized," said King, "and they're not looking at that like maybe an older generation was. So, there's lot of people telling them that drugs aren't bad, it's okay to take a drug. And, parents need to understand that children are being exposed to this at an earlier age."
He says all of this is making it harder for law enforcement to crack down on illegal narcotics.
"We're trying to make our communities safer," he said, "and we try to go after violent drug trafficking organizations. We know that drug trafficking leads to violence in most areas. So, we're constantly having to evolve to go after this. But, one thing that we try to be very aggressive on--especially if we know that this stuff in on the street in our area--is to go out and try to get it off the street as fast as possible, and hold those people accountable on the street."
King urges parents to have conversations with their children regarding the dangers of drug abuse--especially the risks of synthetic drugs. Resources are available to parents on-line at dea.gov. You can hear the interview with Justin King here: