The Journal Gazette
Sunday, April 10, 2016 4:06 am

Fake pills bringing real death to youths

Frank Gray

Two years ago, Fort Wayne Police Capt. Kevin Hunter attended a drug enforcement conference where participants were warned that "if you think synthetic spice is bad, wait till synthetic benzodiazepine arrives."

The prediction has arrived, in the form of fake Xanax.

It has appeared all over the country, and it’s leaving a trail of dead people in its wake.

Last week, two people were arrested in connection with the sale of what proved to be fake Xanax pills at Northrop High School.

That wasn’t the first encounter local police have had with the pills. On March 15, one person died after taking one of the pills, and on March 16 there was a second fatal overdose involving the pills. The victims in those cases were 19 and 20 years old.

In the Northrop case last week, a student who had purchased and taken one of the drugs was quickly affected and taken to a hospital. The student was in bad shape, Hunter said. He was lucky to be taken to the hospital as quickly as he was.

Who is making the pills isn’t yet known. They could be from China. They could be made by Mexican drug cartels.

Whoever is making the pills has gone to a lot of trouble, and they’re cranking out a lot of them.

Some of the pills are crude, but some are hard to distinguish from real Xanax – until you take it. Some contain fentanyl, or synthetic fentanyl, a drug dozens of times more powerful than heroin. Take one and it takes only minutes for its effects to be felt. You can stop breathing and die.

And it’s young people – high school students, young adults – taking them. They’re willing to buy pills on the street because they look like a prescription drug. They think they are made by a pharmaceutical company, so it’s safe, Hunter said.

"There’s no guarantee when you buy something on the street," Hunter said. "You don’t know what you’re going to get. You run the risk of dying. These are senseless deaths."

The counterfeit pills that have been found in Fort Wayne are being tested. Police haven’t found any pills containing fentanyl yet, but the pills have already shown they are dangerous.

We can tell kids not to take drugs, but often it doesn’t do any good. Heroin has somehow lost its image as the last stop for junkies who have finally hit bottom, as low and hopeless as you can get. Its use has grown, and it’s kids who are taking it.

Show some kids prescription pills, and they’ll gobble them down without hesitation.

That’s what’s so deadly about the counterfeit Xanax. It looks real. It says Xanax right on the pill.

When someone dies of a drug overdose, it usually doesn’t make the paper. The police don’t put out a news release with the person’s name. The person becomes a nameless statistic.

That’s what was unusual about the announcement last week that two people had overdosed on the drugs. The hope was that people would listen.

If someone tries to sell you Xanax tablets on the street, it might be a good idea to ask yourself if it’s worth dying for.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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