Experts present details about finding first fentanyl-laced ecstasy tablet in Houston area

HOUSTON – The Houston Forensic Science Center discussed the latest on fentanyl this week, including an 87% increase in fentanyl cases the center saw last year.

Health and law enforcement officials also shared findings of the first fentanyl identification in what was believed to be XTC, or ecstasy, according to a news release.

When it comes to some of the problems connected to the drug, Rania Mankarious, the chief executive officer at Crime Stoppers of Houston, isn’t holding back.

“We’re seeing it everywhere, not just Houston, but everywhere,” she said.

Mankarious is especially concerned about young people who may be using social media to help them buy other drugs, unaware those drugs are laced with fentanyl.

“They pop a pill thinking it’s going to either relieve anxiety, or pain, help them focus, help them sleep, and have no idea it’s going to kill them,” Mankarious said.

Vaughan Gilmore is the director of addiction services at The Menninger Clinic, a Houston facility that treats psychiatric and addiction issues.

“Fentanyl is actually a synthetic opioid that is just incredibly potent,” Gilmore said. “You may not know that you’re purchasing fentanyl. You may not actually have any tolerance for opioid use, and so, when you ingest the fentanyl, you really have a high risk for overdose.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is making addiction issues worse, Gilmore said.

“It’s a really similar story. Over and over again that things got worse - this year because they didn’t have their job, they weren’t going into work every day, and really their substance use has escalated,” Gilmore said.

Representatives from the forensic science center, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Houston Police Department and the Houston Health Department talked about fentanyl and its harsh effects on Thursday at 10 a.m.

According to James Miller, the manager of the Houston Forensic Science Center’s Seized Drugs Unit, some pills appear to be legitimate until they are tested. Miller said the fentanyl in the tablets, or substances such as Methamphetamine, can cause an overdose.

The DEA said in 2021, they seized 210 kilograms of fentanyl. After a lab test in 2019, 1 in 4 pills seized contained a deadly amount of fentanyl, officials said.

From July 2019 to July 2020, officials said 82,000 people died from drug overdoses due to opioids and some fentanyl use. The DEA said you could fill the NRG Stadium with last year’s drug overdose victims.

There are 97 treatment centers in the country. Of those, 12 are in Houston.