CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that fentanyl kills 200 Americans a day.

Last year, Paula Young’s son was one of them.

Young lost her 33-year-old son Andrew unexpectedly after he consumed marijuana laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s about 50 times more potent than heroin.

“He did not know that the fentanyl was in his marijuana,” Young told 12 News, adding that he had bought it from someone he knew.

Andrew Young (Photo courtesy of Paula Young)

“I know parents that I now am associated with, that their children passed away from it being in their cocaine, in their meth, in marijuana like my son,” she added.

The DEA Laboratory found that of the fake, fentanyl-laced prescription pills analyzed last year, six out of ten contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. It’s an increase from the year prior, and a statistic the DEA wanted to highlight on Fentanyl Awareness Day.

Paula Young’s nonprofit, Achieve Greatness, helps raise awareness of the realities of fentanyl poisoning. As a way to reduce the stigma around those deaths, she and another parent created a billboard that overlooks Route 6 in Rehoboth. It shows the faces of fentanyl victims.

“Their legacies will not be how they passed away, but how many lives are about to save,” Young said.

According to the DEA, two major Mexican cartels are fueling the problem by selling fake pills and hiding fentanyl in other drugs. In coordinated action against the cartels between May 1, 2022, and May 1 of this year, the New England field division seized 210 pounds of fentanyl and more than 178,000 fake pills.

Linda Hurley, president and CEO of CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, told 12 News that illicit street pills are a real threat, especially to younger people.

“It can happen to anybody and it is happening to anybody, any family, any community in Rhode Island and in the country,” Hurley said.

Data presented in a March meeting of the R.I. Governor’s Overdose Task Force shows a sedative called xylazine is also on the rise in Rhode Island. In 2022, test results found xylazine in approximately 37% of all fentanyl samples submitted by Rhode Island law enforcement.

Additionally. the data showed xylazine was found in nearly 40% of counterfeit opioid pills tested in 2022 by the R.I. Department of Health’s Forensic Drug Chemistry Lab.

“Please, please, please – never use anything alone,” Hurley said. “Nothing alone. Because you never know what’s going to be in the products that you’re self-administering.”

Hurley also said fentanyl test strips are available and encouraged everyone to carry naloxone, an overdose reversal medication commonly known by the brand name Narcan.

CODAC is in the process of setting up a second mobile unit for those who suffer from substance use disorder, according to Hurley.

“We’ll be able to come to your community, and you’re not going to have to take two or three buses to get to treatment, and then the bus is late, and then the doctor is seeing somebody else,” Hurley explained.

A mobile clinic was first set up last summer and still offers suboxone and methadone treatments in a Woonsocket parking lot.

“We’re really excited to be able to get more help on the road,” she added.

Hurley said the second bus will probably open next month somewhere in the southern part of the state. CODAC aims to eventually have a total of four on the road.