“One pill can kill”

April 18, 2023

Graphic Jennifer Banh

Editor’s note: This story won first place for in-depth news feature package in the 2024 ILPC contest. It also won a Tops in Texas 2024.

Fentanyl is part of the nationwide opioid epidemic that’s made its way into our community. Eduardo A. Chavez, the DEA Dallas Field Division’s Special Agent in Charge says that over the last 18 to 24 months, the drug has become the deadliest drug in North Texas. 

“It has penetrated almost every neighborhood in every area,” Chavez said. 

The threat of fentanyl comes from two main reasons. The first is the recent trend from illegal manufacturers selling fentanyl disguised as other prescription drugs. 

The second reason comes from how little fentanyl it takes to be lethal and how often that  amount is found in the fake pills. 

“The potential deadly dose is two milligrams,” Chavez said. “The latest average has shown that six out of 10 pills have two milligrams or more.”

Fifty times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, the deadly effects of fentanyl have been seen at high schools across the Metroplex.

How fentanyl works

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid originally created to help patients with chronic pain. Because the drug is not found naturally, it latches onto brain receptors more tightly, which can quicken its effects.

When prescribed, it can be useful and safe. However, fentanyl pills sold from unreliable sources are more likely to contain at least two milligrams of the drug — a deadly dosage.

Chavez says this high risk that comes with fentanyl makes it different from experimenting with other drugs. The margin of error is so slim when making these pills illegally. Because it’s so deadly, there are no second chances. 

“They don’t have some perfect formula to make sure that the first pill they make is going to be identical to the 100,000th pill they make,” Chavez said. “They can’t make sure all of them have less than two milligrams.”

According to Chavez, one sugar packet’s worth of fentanyl can make 500 deadly pills.

“So you look at just the little sugar packet container on a restaurant tabletop, that’s generally 10 to 20 sugar packets maybe,” Chavez said. “I mean, that’s literally [enough for] Marcus, Flower Mound, Argyle, Guyer, combined.”

How fentanyl is disguised

Fentanyl comes in a powder form from China, and much of that is sent to Mexico.

There, that powder is pressed into pills and made to look like pharmaceutical drugs — Xanax, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or even Adderall. 

Brianna Bohannan, a treatment center director at Applegate Recovery, said fentanyl is one of the most common drugs involved in overdoses because fentanyl pills are often made to look like these pharmaceutical drugs and street drugs. Many of fentanyl’s casualties are the result of people being completely unaware of what they are taking. 

“[Fentanyl] gets out in the streets and someone who doesn’t have a tolerance to opioids…they think they’re buying ecstasy,” Bohannan said. “That ecstasy they bought in the street has a trace amount of fentanyl that could be enough to kill that person.”

Graphic Jennifer Banh

Chavez said these fake pills come from many unverifiable sources and can pass for household or prescription drugs.  

“For a lot of individuals who might be familiar with those drugs and maybe have even been prescribed those drugs by their doctors…those things might be a familiar name to them,” Chavez said. “And ultimately, the Mexican drug trafficking cartels have sort of capitalized on that…so maybe somebody will be more inclined to try it.” 

However, Chavez says that you can still trust local pharmacies and doctors to provide you with the right medication. 

“We’ve had zero instances of where those end up being fentanyl,” Chavez said. “The people who were saying that it was the real thing…they weren’t doctors or medical professionals.”

Chavez says the threat is very present for everyone because of how widespread and accessible it is. 

“The affluence of the suburb is sort of irrelevant to these fake pills because it hits every demographic,” Chavez said. “It does not discriminate, and with the prices, it’s affordable.”

The retail prices of these pills can be as little as $10 and the wholesale prices down to $1. 


Lewisville Police Department  Sergeant Tim Stebbins works in the narcotics division.

Stebbins said that local fentanyl has been found mainly in the pressed pills and the pure powder form that comes from overseas. Fentanyl has been found in Percocet pills, a kind of pain reliever with the opioid oxycodone. 

These pills have recently become more popular, and Stebbins attributes this to media and songs popularizing these drugs.

 “They see stars and they see other people that can do those things,” Stebbins said. “I don’t think the kids realize that that’s not real life.”

While marijuana has become legalized in other states and the stigma surrounding it has shifted, deadlier drugs such as fentanyl can still be found in marijuana.

The police department fights drug usage among kids primarily through education and speaking to schools about the dangers. However, Stebbins says that education mainly focuses on instilling fear rather than informing them about the drugs. 

“I don’t think we explain well enough,” Stebbins said. “I think we rely on [students] being less informed to scare them off from trying to do it.”


How to get help

Fentanyl is highly addictive, but seeking medical help and emotional support can help combat substance abuse.

Nicole Hoffman, the clinical director at Roots Renewal Ranch, works with teen girls and their families to treat substance abuse. At the Ranch, the kids start their medical journey with a conversation with Hoffman and their parents. They offer group therapy, family therapy, and time with animals and crafts.

The real truth is that addiction lies to you, especially when we’re looking at something that’s highly addictive as fentanyl.

— Nicole Hoffman, director of Roots Renewal Ranch

The goal of integrating these activities is to show the girls how to find hobbies and pleasure outside of substance abuse. 

“If they’ve been using substances, they learned how to live this way,” Hoffman said. “Now we’ve got to learn how to do it without them.”

But while rehab can help people make immense progress, it is not always affordable. Clients usually stay around 90 days. Hoffman said the range for typical rehab facilities is between $800-$1300 a day. Insurance is helpful and payment plans are offered, but many people do not receive the help they need because they cannot afford it. 

For teens and families who cannot afford rehab, Hoffman recommends having people in their life who are going to be supportive and help them get healthy. Specifically, Hoffman wants teens to turn to adults who they trust.

Addicts often refuse to admit that they don’t have control over their addiction and don’t accept help. Hoffman said people often manipulate themselves into thinking they can stop at any time.

“The real truth is that addiction lies to you, especially when we’re looking at something that’s highly addictive as fentanyl,” Hoffman said. “It only takes one time.”

The school counselors, assistant principals, and SRO work together to find students the help they need to fight their substance addictions. Most cases involving students and drugs are turned over to SRO Mike Anderson.

Anderson said most of these investigations start with the school’s tip line. He encourages students to use the tip line because it could save someone’s life, even if it is at the expense of being a “snitch.”

“Most of the time that high school students report somebody, it’s because there’s a genuine concern,” Anderson said. “I don’t really see it as snitching.”

The school district offers counseling programs and works with clinics in order to aid students. Anderson and the APs encourage students to prioritize their friends’ health and get them help with the resources available. 

Chavez reiterates to students that the potential and long-term effects are not worth the temporary high.

“The threat is too strong,” Chavez said. “The consequences are too irreversible.”

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