LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A collection of federal agents and U.S. attorneys issued a dire warning Monday in downtown Los Angeles: the fentanyl crisis it spiraling out of control and taking tens of thousands of lives each year.
"Fentanyl is the number one cause of death for young people," said Martin Estrada, United States Attorney for the Central District of California. "Last year in the United States over 71,000 people died from fentanyl-related deaths."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that federal investigators say has been mixed into other illicit drugs, including counterfeit pills that are manufactured to look like prescription drugs. Mexican drug cartels are said to be pumping millions of the potentially deadly pills into the US.
"They can make these pills for 13-cents and they can sell them up here to the end user for several dollars, anywhere from $5 to $10 or $12," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner.
Because Southern California is pressed up against Mexico, this region is getting hit hard by the fentanyl epidemic.
"Due to our proximity to the Mexican border, Los Angeles is a major hub where the dark web drug trade can flourish," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Brian Gilhooly.
Los Angeles' stature in the fentanyl distribution world is evident in the rising number of drug busts here.
A federal grand jury last week returned an 11-count indictment against a Christopher Hampton of Cerritos, charging him with producing millions of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl, then marketing and selling them through online. Investigators say Hampton operated two drug labs which had high-speed pill presses making fake Oxycodone and Adderall pills.
If convicted, he's facing up to life in prison.
"Just last week my office and our partners seized over one million fentanyl pills," said Homeland Security's Acting Special Agent in Charge Eddie Wang. "In just this October alone, my office has seized more fentanyl than we did in all of fiscal year 2019."
The federal officials warning parents to talk to their children about the dangers of fentanyl and how drug manufacturers are now selling illicit drugs laced with it online, through social media sites. That strategy, they say, now puts the deadly drug within the reach of any child who goes on the internet.
"We've taken a drug that's 50 times more powerful than heroin and now its infinitely more available than heroin ever was," said Bodner. "And that's the point I think we need to stress especially to parents: no matter where you live, you live in an open-air drug market."