(CNN) — About 12,000 suspected fentanyl pills packaged in popular candy boxes were seized at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday, authorities said.
Someone attempted to go through a TSA investigation with several bags of candy and snacks, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release.
But there were no candies in the boxes labeled SweeTarts, Skittles and Whoppers, the sheriff’s department said. Instead, they contained what authorities believe to be thousands of the dangerous pills.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
As little as two milligrams of fentanyl — about the size of 10-15 grains of table salt — is considered a lethal dose.
“The suspect fled before being arrested by law enforcement but has been identified and investigations are ongoing,” the department said.
Federal agencies and local law enforcement have been warning of the dangers of fentanyl for months, with the DEA warning, “A pill can kill.”
The agency’s lab tests have found that four out of 10 pills containing fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose, and the agency and local law enforcement have been seizing the pills at record rates, the DEA said.
The DEA announced significant fentanyl seizures late last month — more than 10.2 million fentanyl pills seized — across the country during a months-long operation targeting the deadly drug.
“Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this nation,” DEA officials said in announcing the seizure.
In 2021, a record number of Americans — 107,622 — died from drug poisoning or an overdose. About 66% of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the agency.
Fentanyl was implicated in more than 77% of adolescent overdose deaths in 2021, according to a study published in JAMA earlier this year.
But with drug use among teens at an all-time low, the rising overdose deaths are likely not the result of more teens using drugs, but rather the increasing risks of the drugs themselves, said one of the study’s authors.
In August, the DEA warned the public about colorful fentanyl, dubbed “rainbow fentanyl,” spreading across the country.
The pills’ colorful appearance is a “deliberate attempt by drug traffickers to promote addiction among children and young adults,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the alert.
The DEA did not specify in its statement whether rainbow fentanyl has led to overdoses or deaths in adolescents.
Many counterfeit pills are also made to look like prescription opioids like Xanax, Oxycodone, Percocet, or stimulants like Adderall, authorities say.
Last month, the Los Angeles Police Department announced it was investigating multiple drug overdoses at a Hollywood high school, including one that resulted in death. Investigators said they believed the students bought what they believed to be Percocet pills.
In the wake of the overdoses, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that its campuses would be provided with doses of naloxone, a drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, including fentanyl.
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