HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Federal narcotics say drugs laced with fentanyl are flooding the state.
It’s not just found in meth and heroin. It is also found in pills that look identical to those in the pharmacy.
Meanwhile, fentanyl is having devastating effects in the community.
The hardest thing in life is saying goodbye to someone you don’t want to let go.
“I wake up every day. Crying,’ said Tracy Fu. “We will never be the same as a family. We are broken.”
It’s been a year since Kauai’s mother last held her son.
A year ago a 1-year-old girl lost her father.
On August 20, 2021, Austin Thronas died of an overdose. The 26-year-old Kapaa man was killed by a drug he didn’t even know he had used.
“The results of the autopsy showed that his heart stopped because of fentanyl,” Fu said.
The opioid is 100 times more potent than morphine.
According to the DEA, a few details of powder smaller than the tip of a pencil can be lethal.
Department of Health data shows that at least 41 people died in Hawaii from synthetic opioid overdoses last year.
Officials believe most if not all of those deaths were related to fentanyl.
Small amounts of fentanyl began to surface in Hawaii in 2016, often unknowingly mixed with other drugs such as heroin and meth.
Now federal law enforcement says agents are finding it in pills that look exactly like what you’d buy at the drugstore. And they appear in every community in the state.
“They’re seizing this by the thousands,” said Gary Yabuta.
Hawaii News Now asked the executive director of Hawaii’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area to do a side-by-side comparison.
“This is the real pharmaceutical oxycodone,” he said, holding three white pills in a sealed plastic bag.
He then referred to three more pills that were blue in color.
“These are made to look like oxycodone, but they’re not,” he said. “They’re pills laced with fentanyl.”
Both sets of pills had identical markings.
Although the color is different, Yabuta says this isn’t a tell-tale if it’s counterfeit. He says that shape and color can vary by brand.
“The Mexican cartels produce these pills in Mexico with pill presses,” Yabuta said. “It comes ready-made across the border.”
And oxycodone lookalikes aren’t the only thing pumping them out.
“Anything that’s an opioid prescription drug can be made to look like a pill with fentanyl,” Yabuta said.
Agents also seized fake Xanax and Adderall.
The difference is with the fakes – one pill can be fatal.
“The problem is you don’t know,” Yabuta said. “And there’s really no concrete way to tell you right away what’s real and what isn’t.”
A significant amount of fentanyl showing up in Hawaii arrives through the mail.
According to the police, traffickers send it the same way companies send parcels.
Over the past three years, the amount of fentanyl seized through HIDTA initiatives has skyrocketed.
In 2021, agents seized nearly 40,000 pills. That is more than 2000% more than in 2019.
Last year, the police also recovered about 12,000 g of fentanyl powder, which was barely there before.
“It’s so common and it’s such a massive size that it’s very difficult for law enforcement to target many of these distributors,” Yabuta said.
Meanwhile, pills, powder and other fentanyl-laced drugs are flooding the state. Most people have no idea what they are taking.
“It’s like giving them a bazooka when they know it,” Fu said.
This mother’s story is one that most would not dare to share.
But she knows the alternative is much worse.
“Pretending it’s not there just makes it more available to the next person,” Fu said. “We need to be aware of it — make sure our kids are aware of it.”
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