Authorities crack down on illegal pill-making operations as local overdose deaths rise

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 7:35 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Overdose deaths are on the rise and local law enforcement agencies are taking notice. In fact, they’re noticing one of the main reasons for the rise is deadly drugs like fentanyl being put into other drugs. Now local agencies are working to end the illegal practice.

Law enforcement agencies are cracking down on pill-pressing operations. That’s where dealers manufacture pills laced with illegal drugs that look like real prescription medications. It’s scary because they can be laced with fentanyl. The people who take the drugs, unsuspecting. The results, deadly.

“It’s like every day, someone has a gun to your head and you’re just waiting for that gun to have a bullet in it,” said Aleciea Bowling.

She works as a cook at Hope House. She’s in recovery but it wasn’t so long ago that she was buying what she thought were prescription drugs. Instead, they were counterfeit and she says laced with fentanyl.

“It only takes one second, it takes that one time, and next thing you know you’re in the hospital,” said Bowling.

The Burke County Sheriff’s Office knows this story all too well. We spoke to one investigator, his face hidden because he works undercover.

“You don’t know what you’re getting. The drug dealer might market it as one mg Xanax, but in reality, it could be fentanyl they pressed to resemble Xanax,” said the investigator.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently sentenced two Burke County men to prison. Authorities say the men were operating an illegal pill press. And it’s a problem across our area.

Our I-Team found 70 percent of lethal drug overdoses in Richmond County so far this year involved fentanyl. Across the river in Aiken County, 80 percent in 2020 involved the drug.

“You might have one pill that has a trace amount of fentanyl, and another pill out the same bowl might have a larger amount of fentanyl,” said the investigator.

But amid all this hope. Found in people like Aleciea who found their way out.

“I was in such a low place and I didn’t know how to get myself out of it, and I got myself out of it. It just feels so good to be free from it, and I feel like a new person,” said Bowling.

If you or someone you love is battling a drug addiction, SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Their number is 1-800-662-HELP (4357). For additional information visit their website at SAMHSA.

Hope House says Aleciea was speaking from her own experience and not on their behalf. But they are very proud of her for sharing her story. To learn more about the Hope House visit: Hope House Augusta.

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