The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department launched a campaign Dec. 14 to raise awareness of the dangers of counterfeit pharmaceuticals with actor Danny Trejo and city officials with the tagline, “Bad meds kill real people.”
Newly-elected Sheriff Robert Luna announced the campaign in an effort to stop the spread of black market pharmaceutical meds—especially fentanyl—alongside Trejo, and a number of organizations including, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and the Department of Homeland Security at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.
Trejo starred in a televised public service announcement for the cause, especially in an attempt to appeal to minors and young adults.
He told reporters during a morning press conference that compared to 5 to 10 years ago, even marijuana is not the same drug that was once sold on the streets.
“You can buy marijuana and it might be laced with fentanyl, and fentanyl is a killer,” he said. Today, he said, “Every time kids get loaded, it’s worse than Russian Roulette because there’s no longer just one bullet in the barrel.”
Trejo also said fentanyl is plaguing the homeless in Los Angeles, too.
“This is getting worse,” Trejo said. “It’s a crisis now. We have a homeless crisis, and you see all the fentanyl down there.”
Drugs in the black market can get into the hands of young people as easy as the click of a button.
Counterfeit drugs are commonly sold through social media and websites, according to Luna.
The organization Crimestoppers had representatives on hand during the campaign’s announcement, who said they receive up to 1,200 tips a month countywide alerting them of potential illicit drug sales.
“While the internet provides vast amounts of information about diseases and their possible treatments, counterfeiters prey upon unsuspecting patients seeking to purchase remedies through online pharmacy sites,” Luna said.
Luna cited a 2012 National Association Board of Pharmacy study that found more than 95 percent of sites selling counterfeit drugs “appear to be operating out of compliance with state and federal laws, or with established patient safety and pharmacy practice standards.”
Representatives from that association also participated in the campaign’s announcement.
“The manufacturers of these counterfeit medicines only care about making money at the expense of our most vulnerable communities and community members,” Luna said.
Others said the issue is only proliferating and at a fast clip.
Homeland Security investigators in Los Angeles have seized “fentanyl at an alarming rate in the past three months alone,” according to special agent Eddy Wang.
“My office and our partners have [recently] seized more fentanyl than we did in all of fiscal years 2019 and 2020 combined,” he said.
According to a November report from the county’s public health department, accidental fentanyl overdose deaths increased 1,280 percent from 2016 to 2021, and over nearly the same time period—through 2020—fentanyl overdose emergency visits at hospitals increased 308 percent.
The report also noted that in 2021, methamphetamine and fentanyl were the most common drugs listed as a cause of accidental drug overdose deaths in Los Angeles County.
An LAPD spokesperson said during the campaign announcement said that over the last six months, the department has recovered over 10,000 illicit drugs off Los Angeles streets.
“Collaboration with law enforcement community business partners have been working diligently to disrupt and dismantle businesses and individuals who are selling counterfeit pharmaceutical medicines,” LAPD Capt. Alfonso Lopez said.
Also on hand during the announcement was Los Angeles resident Matt Capelouto said he lost his 20-year-old daughter, Alexandria, in 2019 to counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl sold to her from the black market.
Capelouto said the most popular way illegal drug sellers get to children and teenagers is through social media apps like Snapchat.
“As a teenager, Alex was diagnosed with massive depressive disorder [and] with her depression came severe anxiety and insomnia,” Capelouto said.“As with physical pain, people suffering from depression will seek relief. This relief is often sought under duress and those suffering don’t always make cognitive rational decisions.”
Capelouto said he’s working with California lawmakers to pass state Senate Bill 44, also known as Alexandria’s Law, which would require a person who has sold such drugs to be charged with murder if a person they have sold to dies of an overdose.
“As a border state, California is a hub for illicit fentanyl distribution across this nation. We are obligated to take action. Our children are dying. Families are suffering and we need the help of our elected representatives now more than ever,” Capelouto said.