SEATTLE — Federal investigators say a 17-year-old Bellingham boy knew that counterfeit painkillers he bought from a drug dealer last month were likely tainted with fentanyl, so he rationed them — using only small parts of a pill at a time to avoid overdosing.
He died anyway, and now two Mount Vernon residents have been charged in connection with the pills.
Rosaliana Lopez-Rodriguez, 21, who prosecutors say sold the pills to the teen, and a man identified as her supplier, Giovanni Alejandro Nunez, also 21, are charged with possessing narcotics with intent to distribute. Both are in custody. Their lawyers did not immediately return emails seeking comment Wednesday.
According to a federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, the teen's sister found him unresponsive on Nov. 9, and efforts by emergency responders to revive him failed. Messages on his phone — and an interview with a friend of the victim who had survived an overdose on the pills after being hospitalized a few days earlier — helped lead Whatcom County sheriff's detectives and Drug Enforcement Administration agents to Lopez-Rodriguez, the complaint said.
The messages between the teen and his supplier suggest that he alerted her after his friend's overdose to warn that the pills might be tainted, calling them a 'kill pill', DEA agent Christopher Vandenbos wrote in the complaint.
"Users of fentanyl pills right now are under the impression that they can cut these pills in half and reduce the amount of dosages. This is really not the case, because you really don’t know which side of the pill the doses of fentanyl are loaded, so there’s just no way to tell by taking a half a pill. Ingesting any part of these fentanyl-laced pills can be life ending,” said Keith Weis, DEA Special Agent in Charge for the Seattle Field Division.
Authorities arrested Lopez-Rodriguez last week after tracking her and using a confidential source and undercover agent to make controlled buys, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle. The pills were designed to look like 30 mg oxycodone pills, imprinted “M30.” Similar pills have been linked to other overdose deaths throughout the Puget Sound region.
“Getting these tainted pills off the street are a top priority for law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran said in a written statement. “It is heartbreaking to meet with the families of these overdose victims who lost their children to fentanyl. We will hold those spreading these poisons accountable.”
Possession of narcotics with intent to distribute carries up to 20 years in prison.