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(WHNT) — Parents of young people worry about many things – their kids getting into the drivers seat for the first time, whether they excel in school, or how they are doing in their favorite extracurricular activity. Now, there’s something heavier.

The number of teens dying from drug overdoses is rising across the country. It’s something you as a parent, need to know about.

“If this was anything else, if this was a plane crashing into a mountain, killing this many people on a daily basis, there would be an absolute uproar,” said Selina Mason, a board member for Not One More Alabama.

In 2021, drug overdose deaths topped 100,000 in the United States.

“People think that that is a free will,” Mason continued. “That’s something that people choose to do, but I can tell you these people are not choosing to die.”

Now the opioid epidemic is taking another turn, with overdose deaths pointing back to counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.

“It’s the young people that are dying,” Mason continued. “Those numbers have doubled since 2020 to 2021. And that’s just absolutely unacceptable. It’s all unacceptable, but these are our kids. These are 8th graders, 11th graders, [and] 12th graders that are experimenting. These people are not addicted to drugs. They’re experimenting with pills.”

Madison County Coroner Tyler Berryhill said the county is inundated with fentanyl.

“We see it day in and day out and it’s reflecting [in] the toxicology,” Berryhill told News 19.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is sounding the alarm, saying criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake pills and marketing them as legitimate prescription drugs.

“It’s literally Russian roulette,” said Lee Barton, an addiction awareness advocate. “You may have a bag of pills and the first five may make you feel great and you get real excited about how good they make you feel. But that next pill has too much fentanyl in it, and it will just kill, or kill you, and kills you instantaneously.”

The DEA says fake prescription pills are easily accessible and even sold on social media or e-commerce platforms, making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors.

“These teenagers that go to pill parties or go to other things they just have no idea what they’re doing,” Barton continued. “They’re buying drugs off the dark web, or they’re buying it for some guy downtown that he got it off the dark web. And it might say something on the pill, but it’s not what it is.”

Barton’s son Jay died from an accidental overdose in 2016. Now he works to educate young people and their parents about the dangers of drugs.

“You know, we hug and squeeze tight the small successes just children that we’ve been able to help, but one of the things that allow them to get help is to try to take some of the stigmas away,” Barton stated. “It’s truly a disease.”

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