EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso health authorities say the use of the potentially deadly drug fentanyl is on the rise and are warning residents not to consume it.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza (KTSM file photo)

“We are starting to see an increase in teens abusing the drug. We must take proactive measures to educate everyone, especially our youth on the dangers of fentanyl to prevent overdoses, poisonings, and deaths,” said City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza.

The Drug Enforcement Administration recently also issued a warning on the distribution of “rainbow” fentanyl colored to look like candy. It’s a cartel tactic to make the drug attractive to teens and children, the agency said.

Deaths in El Paso County involving fentanyl consumption more than doubled in one year, going from 23 during the pandemic confinement year of 2020 to 60 in 2021, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Nationwide, 107,375 people died of drug overdoses or drug poisonings during the 12-month period ending in January 2022, with 67 percent of those involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overdose deaths in El Paso County, Texas, 2021. (Medical Examiner’s Office)

Local and federal health authorities say fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that can kill with a mere 2-milligram dose – is being mixed with other illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Drug Enforcement Administration officials have told Border Report that sometimes dealers “spike” other drugs with fentanyl without the buyer’s knowledge.

The drug made with precursor chemicals from Asia is increasingly being trafficked by Mexican drug cartels into the United States. Fentanyl seizures by the U.S. Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations in the El Paso Sector increased from 45 pounds in fiscal year 2020 to 427 in fiscal year 2021, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“Mexican cartels are increasingly manufacturing fentanyl for distribution and sale in the United States. Precursors imported from China and other countries and pressed into pills, powder or mixed into other drugs at massive, industrial-scale labs,” the Department of Justice said in a statement last month.

Transnational criminal organizations have taken a liking to this synthetic opioid in the past few years because of the low cost associated with its manufacturing and distribution. Marijuana and the opium poppies from whose morphine extract heroin is made from take time, water and labor to grow; fentanyl can be manufactured in home labs that can operate 24-7, experts have told Border Report.

The DOJ says drug trafficking organizations were adding small amounts of fentanyl to large loads of other drugs, particularly methamphetamine. However, the Mexican cartels are now moving significantly larger quantities of fentanyl pills and powder across the border.