May 16, 2022: More than 107,000 U.S. drug deaths in 2021

New CDC data suggests that drug deaths climbed over 107,000 in 2021, almost 15% higher than in 2020. The DEA reported seizing 2,100 pounds of precursor chemicals for fentanyl in an effort to disrupt fentanyl trafficking. 28 more stories cover deaths, seizures and prosecutions across the country.

The Center for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics released preliminary data showing a record 107,622 drug overdose deaths in 2021, a 14.9% increase from the year before. As with last year, the increase is attributed to fentanyl making its way into the entire illicit drug supply: heroin, counterfeit prescription pills, cocaine and meth.

The DEA reported the seizure of 2,100 pounds of fentanyl precursor chemicals between January 2021 and March 2022. The agency hopes to disrupt the creation of fentanyl by intercepting precursors on their way from China to Mexico.

Projected Drug Deaths for 2021 (Source: CDC)

Counterfeit pills across the country

In the Northeast

Eric Encarnacion Medina of Bronx, New York received a 51-month prison sentence for his role in a drug trafficking ring that sold fentanyl. Encarnacion Medina, who transported fentanyl from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, made plans to sell a cooperating witness 400 fentanyl pills in February 2021.

In the Pacific West

Vacaville, California resident Brenda Steed shared the loss of her 18-year-old son Kaydan Ross to fentanyl poisoning. Kaydan took one-and-a-half fake oxycodone pills in April.

Two Riverside County, California residents are facing federal charges for selling drugs on the dark web. Law enforcement found meth and more than 10,000 counterfeit oxycodone (fentanyl) pills in the hotel room where they were living in March 2022.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department seized 150,000 counterfeit blue “M-30” pills they suspected contain fentanyl and almost 100 pounds of other drugs in Huntington Park on Wednesday.

Police found methamphetamine, approximately 185,000 blue counterfeit M/30 pills and more than $12,000 in cash. (Longview Police Department)

A federal court filed complaints against three Monterey County, California residents who allegedly ran a Snapchat-based drug ring selling counterfeit pills to Monterey high school students, including two poisoning victims, one of whom died on March 5.

Kent, Washington resident Adrian Izazaga-Martinez received a nine-year prison sentence for his role in a Jalisco New Generation Cartel drug trafficking ring that distributed meth, heroin, fentanyl-laced pills and cocaine in King, Snohomish, Lewis, and Pierce Counties.

Police in Longview, Washington arrested a Kelso man and seized more than 186,000 fentanyl pills from a residence and two vehicles.

Law enforcement in Spokane seized approximately 50,000 suspected fentanyl pills, five pounds of methamphetamine, and seven guns as part of an ongoing drug trafficking investigation.

In the Midwest

Elizabeth Hewitt lost her son Mason to fentanyl poisoning after he took a counterfeit pain pill in November 2021 The Hewitts live in Ray County, Missouri, and fentanyl—particularly in pill form—is having a big impact there.

In the South

Georgia saw its first two counterfeit pill deaths in February 2015, followed by two waves of poisonings and deaths in the summer of 2017. Learn more about counterfeit medicines in Georgia.  

Georgia’s Department of Public Health reported that fentanyl-related deaths increased 218% between 2019 and 2021. One factor is that more illicit drugs contain fentanyl. In Georgia, it’s been found in counterfeit Adderall as well as the more usual opioids, Xanax, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Officers in LaGrange, Georgia searched a suspect’s residence and found cocaine, marijuana and blue M-30 pills suspected to contain fentanyl.

Police in Hinds County, Mississippi discovered five pounds of fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone at a location in South Jackson last week; they're still looking for the owner of the drugs.

Darryl Hemphill, of Rock Hill, South Carolina pleaded guilty in federal court for his role in a drug ring that made fentanyl-laced pills and sold them to users in Rock Hill, Greenville, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia.

A South Carolina family is sharing that they lost their daughter to a fentanyl pill in March, in the hope that they can prevent more deaths. Lana Hooker-Hashem was just 15.

Austin, Texas local Carilu Bell shared the loss of her 44-year-old son, Casey Copeland, to a counterfeit Valium pill made with fentanyl in August 2021. Copeland’s death is reminiscent of Cameron Stewart’s, which happened in nearby Cedar Park in March 2021.

Police in Prince William County arrested a Woodbridge, Virginia man who allegedly sold  counterfeit Percocet pills made with fentanyl to a 14-year-old who died of fentanyl poisoning in April 2022.

Law enforcement arrested a Ruckersville, Virginia man after seizing 11,000 fentanyl pills from his residence.

University police in Morgantown, West Virginia issued a warning after local police confiscated 3,000 fake Xanax pills and made one arrest.

In the Mountain West

Tucson, Arizona resident Oscar Acuna, Jr. pleaded guilty to fentanyl distribution for selling fentanyl pills and black tar heroin to a woman and her boyfriend at a hotel in May 2020. The woman died after taking a portion of one pill.

Four additional Tucson residents have been indicted for alleged fentanyl pill distribution. Between October and December 2021, law enforcement seized more than 8,000 counterfeit M30 pills associated with their activities.

Chase Ellison’s family remembered him on the DEA’s National Fentanyl Awareness Day. The 18-year-old Arizona resident died in January 2021 after taking a fake Xanax made with fentanyl.

Fentanyl pills have been killing Arizona teens since at least 2018

A Phoenix man was charged by criminal complaint for alleged distribution of fentanyl pills and other drugs. A search of his car and apartment this month yielded 178,000 fentanyl pills, almost three and a half kilos of meth, and other drugs.

A Denver, Colorado man is being prosecuted on federal drug charges related to a year-long investigation Denver police concluded in March. They arrested him at the same time they found about 8,000 fentanyl pills, 179 pounds of meth, and other drugs in two Denver-area homes.

Another Colorado man was charged by complaint after law enforcement officers seized 70,000 fentanyl pills, 10 pounds of methamphetamine, 34 pounds of heroin, two firearms, and approximately $20,000 from him in early May.

The Bukovich Family lost her 21-year-old  son Jake, a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, to fentanyl poisoning after he took a counterfeit oxycodone pill in August 2021. Jake’s mother Carole is working to spread awareness about what happened to him “​​in the hopes that it could save even one life.”

Southfield, Michigan resident Brandon James pleaded guilty to drug charges for selling fentanyl pills on and around the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in Montana.

Severano Ceballos Martinez, of Mexico, received a 17-year-and-six-month prison sentence for drug possession. Martinez agreed to deliver five pounds of meth and 1,000 fentanyl pills to an apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April 2021. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested him at the scene, seizing 2,115 fentanyl pills they found in his vehicle.