“16 Years Forever”: the ravages of fentanyl among American youth

“16 Years Forever”: the ravages of fentanyl among American youth

Makayla Cox, an American high school student in Virginia, thought she was taking pain and anxiety medication given to her by a friend.

• Also read: Four Americans died because of his fentanyl, which he exported from his prison cell

But the pill he swallowed two weeks after his sixteenth birthday was fentanyl, a synthetic opiate up to 50 times more potent than heroin. She died almost immediately.

One night in January, after watching a movie with her mother Shannon, Makayla looked fine as she walked into her bedroom with her dog, a husky, who often slept on her bed.

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But the next morning, Shannon discovered Makayla leaning against the headboard, half-sitting, with an orange liquid spurting out of her mouth and nose.

“She was very stiff. I shook her, I called her name, I called for help,” Shannon told AFP. “My neighbors came and tried to revive her, but it was too late. I don’t remember much after that.”

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Catastrophic proportions

In the United States, the opiate crisis is reaching catastrophic proportions.

More than 80,000 people died last year from opiate overdoses, mostly caused by designer drugs like fentanyl – seven times more than a decade ago.

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“This is the most dangerous epidemic we’ve ever seen,” said Ray Donovan, a senior official at the US Anti-Drug Agency (DEA). “Fentanyl is not like any other illegal drug, it is instantly fatal.”

And the number of deaths is rising particularly fast among young people. In 2019, 493 American teenagers died from drug overdoses. In 2021 there were 1,146.

They procure counterfeit drugs through social networks. And they’re taking pills containing fentanyl without knowing it.

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To reach the youngest, retailers use applications like Snapchat, TikTok or Instagram.

They often replace the drug name with emojis. So, oxycodone, a highly addictive drug, takes the form of a half-peeled banana. Xanax, a sedative, that of a candy bar.

The number of Americans using drugs has remained fairly stable in recent years, but what is changing is the dangerousness of the substances, according to Wilson Compton, associate director of the US National Institute on Substance Abuse.

The difference between living and dying is less than a gram

Fentanyl is so powerful that the difference between life and death is less than a gram.

“It only takes very small amounts for it to become a poison that prevents you from breathing,” Wilson Compton told AFP.

In the United States, most illicit fentanyl is manufactured by Mexican cartels from products shipped from China.

This drug is good business for these criminal groups because of the effectiveness of fentanyl, a smaller dose is enough to fill a pill.

A kilogram of pure product bought for about $12,000 turns into half a million more transportable pills, each worth up to $30.

Last year, the DEA seized nearly seven tons of fentanyl — enough to kill every American. Four out of ten pills contained a lethal dose.

Pictures of the “faces of fentanyl” hang on the walls in a lobby of the anti-drug agency’s headquarters. The portrait collection pays tribute to a dozen people whose lives have recently been taken by drugs.

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Among them: “Makayla – 16 years forever”

model student

A model student and cheerleader, the young girl loved painting, playing with her dogs and hoping to go to law school, says her mother Shannon Doyle, 41.

After her parents’ divorce, Makayla struggled with anxiety, which has been made worse by the pandemic.

Last summer, a friend introduced him to counterfeit drugs.

The blue pills found in Makayla’s bed were actually made entirely of fentanyl. A police investigation is ongoing but has not yet resulted in an arrest.

“Before, when you were a drug addict, you had 5, 10, 15 years to try and break the addiction,” explains Shannon Doyle at her home in Virginia Beach, a coastal town about 200 miles south of Washington.

“You don’t have that chance anymore.”

The DEA has launched a prevention campaign on the risks of fentanyl, and initiatives are trying to increase the availability of naloxone, an antidote that can keep someone from overdosing.

Makayla’s ashes rest in her bedroom, a room that Shannon always peeks at morning and night, just as she did when she was alive.

On behalf of Makayla, she set up a foundation to try to avert similar tragedies — a way of dealing with her grief, she said.

The teenager’s best friend, 16-year-old Kaydence Blanchard, is spending her first summer without her. She tries to fulfill their dreams together: get her driver’s license and go to the beach.

But for Makayla, “the future never becomes reality,” she insists. “She will never do any of the projects we envisioned together.”