The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two teens died within 48 hours. Police suspect fentanyl.

Police say the deaths both appear to involve counterfeit forms of Percocet laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl

Montgomery County police Sgt. Peter Johnson talks about the signs of addiction during an event last summer in Gaithersburg raising awareness about fatal opioid overdoses. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Two teens died within a two-day period in Prince William County in what police suspect could have been fatal overdoses connected to fentanyl-laced counterfeit drugs.

Prince William County police issued a youth community awareness warning April 27 about illicit drug use following the deaths.

First Sgt. Jonathan Perok said police do not know whether the death of a 15-year-old boy from Woodbridge, Va., and that of a 14-year-old boy from Dale City, Va., are connected. But police say the reports from Sunday and Tuesday both appear to involve counterfeit forms of Percocet, sometimes known as “Perc30” laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Fentanyl, in even its smallest dose, can be deadly, Perok said. The deaths of the teens come as authorities in the region continue to warn against rising deaths as a result of drug overdoses involving fentanyl.

“We’ve been harping on, just like every jurisdiction I think across the country has been harping on, the opioid epidemic, that hasn’t gone away,” Perok said.

Percocet contains oxycodone, which is an opioid, and the pain reliever acetaminophen.

The official cause of deaths for the teens are awaiting results from a toxicology report by the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Police are investigating the source of the drugs.

Fatal opioid overdoses are up by the hundreds, devastating families and worrying officials

Executive Director of Prince William County Community Services, the public behavioral health provider in Greater Prince William, Lisa Madron, said in a statement that it is “aware and very concerned regarding the increase in opioid use and dependence among youth in our community and across Northern Virginia region.”

Madron said the sale and distribution of “Perc30s″ — pills with fentanyl pressed into them — are driving much of the problem.

“These pills are what many of our opioid-dependent youth are using,” Madron said.

Illicitly pressed pills are nearly identical to legitimate pills like pharmaceutically made oxycodone or a Xanax tablet, making it difficult for users to spot the difference, said Kathrin “Rosie” Hobron, statewide forensic epidemiologist for the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

“They’re thinking it’s under the assumption they’re getting something else that’s relatively a ‘light high,' if you will, but then it ends up being fentanyl, unbeknownst to them,” Hobron said.

In a recent report, Hobron found that fentanyl, including prescription, illicit and fentanyl like drugs, caused or contributed to 76.5 percent of drug overdose deaths in Virginia last year.

“They’re just mixing things together, and then they divide it up, so you could have one pill with almost nothing and then another pill that has a huge volume [of fentanyl],” Hobron said. ”It really is kind of a shot in the dark, and that’s what’s really scary.”

The opioid crisis is a concern across the region. In the District, 10 people died from a deadly batch of fentanyl in Northeast, police said, the second mass-casualty event involving fentanyl-laced drugs in the city this year. Last year, the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center reported that, in the first half of 2021, “fentanyl was involved in 1,129 fatal overdoses.”

Police say 10 people died in fatal fentanyl overdoses in Northeast D.C.

The Prince William County Police Department advised parents and guardians in the community awareness message to take “immediate action” to talk with youth about the dangers of drug use. The department also said help is available through Prince William County Community Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which provides treatment location services.

Prince William County Community Services has also been coordinating brainstorming sessions since January to “examine the scope of the problem, current gaps in services, and strategies for addressing the treatment needs of youth struggling with opioid use disorders,” Madron said.

“There is great urgency to address the issue of youth with OUD [opioid use disorders], and we are exploring every option within the broader context of a lack of services,” Madron said.

She said residential treatment options or medical care for youth dealing with substance abuse is limited or doesn’t exist. And she said other options to address abuse need to be paired with therapeutic treatment.

Victor McKenzie Jr., executive director of Substance Abuse & Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia (SAARA) and secretary of the Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority, said there needs to be more investment in the behavioral health-care system.

The Opioid Abatement Authority will provide financial support to Virginia agencies, organizations and localities to help prevent and treat opioid use disorder, McKenzie Jr. said. The funds come from opioid litigation settled against drug manufactures, distributors and others who were sued nationally, McKenzie Jr. said.

SAARA has advocated for more specialists who have recovered from substance abuse themselves to help others facing addiction. The group has also advocated for more recovery residences not just in medical facilities but also in neighborhood settings and education on overdose prevention and how to administer Narcan, McKenzie Jr. said.

“In our society, unfortunately, we treat addiction as a moral failing versus the complex disease and diagnosis that it is,” McKenzie Jr. said. “For so long, we’ve treated addiction with punishment … versus providing the resources it needs as a public health crisis.”

Peter Hermann contributed to this report.