Pills marketed on the internet as supposed painkillers are taking the lives of young people who are consuming them without knowing that they contain a powerful artificial drug.
The unexpected deaths of Daniel Puerta and Adrian de Jesús, two young men ages 16 and 19, were alarmingly similar. Both were victims of this trend.
"They killed my son, they killed him, they poisoned him," said Maria Ortega, mother of Adrian de Jesus. "It was not something of an overdose, it was poisoning."
The parents of both young men allege that the teens contacted a supposed seller of Percocet pills, a tranquilizer that is only sold with a prescription. The young men ordered the drug through a social network in Southern California and were found dead in their rooms.
"You have a drug trafficker taking the pill to your door, your own house," said Jaime Ignacio Puerta, Daniel's father. "My son died in his bedroom."
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the cartels, using laboratories in Mexico, intentionally mix fentanyl into fake pills sold as tranquilizers or pain relievers, because it is cheap, addictive, and increases their profits.
The buyers, often young, have no idea what they are consuming.
A lethal dose of fentanyl is equivalent to just two grains of salt, but the makers of these fraudulent pills have little control over the doses. It is estimated that 1 in 4 pills contains enough to kill someone.
According to the DEA, it is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
The DEA has seen an exponential increase in accidental deaths from this substance and they want to capture those responsible.
"We investigated the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel and persecuted drug traffickers like 'El Mencho' and other drug lords who sell this drug," said DEA Special Agent Bill Bodner, based in Los Angeles.
Fentanyl is estimated to be responsible for 50 percent of accidental drug deaths in Los Angeles County. Nationwide, about 90,000 people died from fentanyl in 2020, according to the DEA.
The authorities emphasize that the best way to save lives is by alerting the community.
"Do not buy drugs through the internet," said an undercover DEA agent. "You never know what there is."
The parents of thousands of victims have come together to push for state laws in California so that fentanyl dealers can face murder convictions. With their testimonies, they try to warn about poisoning with pirate pills.
"Save more families from the agony that we are going through," said Ortega. "Broke our family forever and save those children who are innocent."
Daniel's father has posted a sobering notice in front of his house to let others know that his son unknowingly fell into the deadly web of fentanyl through an adulterated pill.
"It does not choose race, social status, economic status, or skin color," said Jaime Ignacio Ortega about this scourge. "This phenomenon is affecting all segments."
Adrian de Jesus' mother had to collect his graduation diploma, in his absence. Her hope is that the same will not happen to other mothers.
"I can't bring my son back, but you can save a family, even save a life," said Ortega.
This story first appeared on NBCLA's sister station, Telemundo 52. Haz clic aquí para leer esta historia en español.