(CNN) — About 12,000 suspected fentanyl pills packaged in popular candy boxes were seized at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday, authorities said.
Someone tried to go through TSA screening with several bags of candy and snacks, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.
But there was no candy inside the boxes marked 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 50 times more potent than heroin, and up to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Just two milligrams of fentanyl — about the size of 10-15 grains of table salt — is considered a lethal dose.
“The suspect fled prior to being detained by law enforcement but has been identified and the investigation is on-going,” the department said.
Federal authorities and local law enforcement have for months been warning about the dangers of fentanyl, with the DEA cautioning “one pill can kill.”
The agency’s lab testing has found that four out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose, and the agency and local law enforcement agencies have been seizing the pills at record rates, the DEA said.
The DEA late last month announced significant fentanyl seizures — more than 10.2 million fentanyl pills seized — across the nation during a months-long operation targeting the lethal drug.
“Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this nation,” DEA officials said while announcing the seizure.
In 2021, a record number of Americans — 107,622 — died from a drug poisoning or overdose. About 66% of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the agency.
Fentanyl was involved 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 a historic low, the soaring overdose deaths are likely not the result of more adolescents using drugs, but of the increasing risks the drugs themselves, one of the study’s authors said.
In August, the DEA warned the public of colorful fentanyl, dubbed “rainbow fentanyl,” it said was spreading across the country.
The pills’ colorful appearance is a “deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the alert.
The DEA did not specify in its announcement whether rainbow fentanyl had led to overdoses or deaths among young people.
Many fake 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 overdoses, including one that resulted in a death, at a high school in Hollywood. Investigators said they believe the students bought what they thought were Percocet pills.
After the overdoses, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced its campuses will be equipped with doses of naloxone, a drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid drug overdoses, including from fentanyl.
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