tonight, the deadly drug tearing families apart. >> what is her name? >> sofia. >> let me take over cpr. sir, has she used narcotics? >> street drugs laced with fentanyl. >> these kids are dying from one bad decision. >> police officers on the front lines in a desperate fight. >> i'm coming! >> this is an epidemic that's been hidden by the pandemic. we're hearing of deaths almost every day. >> the head of the dea with a stark warning. >> we've now seen in the past year enough fentanyl to be a deadly dose for every single american. >> easily available with the tap of your phone. >> i'm looking for a little plug emoji, a fire emoji, whatever emoji the normal deals have.
>> this special edition of "nightline," "hidden epidemic," will be right back. (footsteps) ♪ from the mountains to the coast, ♪ ♪ it's the state with the most. ♪ ♪ somos la crema de la crema ♪ ♪ con mucho sol todo el año, cuidado que te quemas ♪ ♪ stack that cheddar, make it melt. ♪ ♪ cook it up, stretch it out. ♪ ♪ we're breaking the mold. ♪ ♪ estado dorado. ♪ ♪ shining like gold. ♪ ♪ estado dorado. ♪ ♪ vive en el estado dorado live in the golden state ♪
ann millgrim later in the broadcast. first, a colorado teenager named sofia who nearly lost her life after she took what she thought was half a percocet, not knowing it was laced with fentanyl. we warn you, some of this report is graphic and disturbing. >> what is the address of your emergency? >> [ bleep ], my daughter's unconscious! >> reporter: it's the sound of sheer panic. >> how old is she? >> 16. sofia! sofia! she's on her back. please hurry. >> i've got them on the way. >> reporter: a quiet afternoon near boulder, colorado, when ryan christoph finds his then 16-year-old daughter, sofia, barely breathing. >> i'm pushing on her chest and it's making some noise, but she's unconscious. >> okay. is she laying flat on her back? >> on her back, on her bed. >> listen carefully, i'm going to tell you how to do chest
compressions. >> reporter: within minutes, sergeant david cohen with the lafayette colorado police department pulls up. >> i'm going to count with you, try and go with the pace i'm counting, okay? keep up with that pace if you can, okay? >> i think it might be him, hold on. up here! >> upstairs? >> yes! >> reporter: cohen sprinting up the stairs, into sofia's bedroom. >> what is her name? >> sofia. >> let me take over cpr. sir, has she used narcotics? >> reporter: sofia's father telling him, he doesn't think so, he only knows of her smoking a little weed. officer cohen's experience told him otherwise. >> 21, slight pulse, narcan administered. >> reporter: as the ambulance gets closer, the narcan kicks in. >> is she breathing? >> she's breathing, yes, sir. >> reporter: sofia had taken a percocet that came from a drug dealer, not knowing it was laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain that is 50 times more powerful
than heroin. >> i'm bored in my room. i notice, you know, i have half this pill. why not? it will make me cheer up. i crushed it up, took a line. felt kind of sparkly for two seconds, then i woke up in the hospital. >> where do you think you would be now, had you not overdosed? >> i think i could have been in a worse spiral. or, as far as i know, i could have been dead. i could have been struggling. i think that i'm grateful for it. >> reporter: from coast to coast in every corner of the u.s., deaths from fentanyl overdoses are soaring. more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in a 12-month period ending in october of 2021. recent cdc data revealing two-thirds of those deaths are linked to fentanyl. and those deaths doubling over the past two years.
>> there's no question in my mind that the vast majority of chemicals are coming from china and going to mexico and being mass produced into fentanyl, into methamphetamine, increasingly into counterfeit pills we see on our streets. >> reporter: fentanyl is sometimes mixed in heroin, meth, cocaine. it's a cheap, higher high, but also can be a lethal combination. >> a tense scene, multiple spring breakers overdosing, rushed to the hospital, the culprit, first responders say, drugs laced with fentanyl. >> when i found out he was doing fentanyl, every day, i didn't know if i was going to get that call. >> it's heavy, insanity right now. >> reporter: users often have no idea. >> she supposedly had taken a percocet. that percocet was laced with fentanyl. that took her life. >> this is an epidemic that's been hidden by the pandemic. and we need more attention paid to this issue.
>> reporter: after everything sofia christoph and her dad have been through, playing softball together is familiar and comfortable. a reminder of a simpler time. now in her junior year, sofia looks forward to taking the field with her team next season. >> she loves going to games, she loves playing. i do too. really grateful we've been able to have that to bond over and spend time together. >> reporter: but through her sophomore year, sofia was hiding a secret from her father. >> what did your dad know about what was going on? >> he knew i was smoking weed sometimes. he had no idea. part of it is because it happened so fast. >> reporter: in the span of just one year, she started experimenting with a long list of drugs. she was suspended from school, and her grades fell. >> cocaine, xanax, ketamine
once, acid, mushrooms, adderall, pills. >> just taking the pills? >> yeah, just everything i could get my hands on. >> i felt stupid. that i should have known. especially with my own history. it's not like i think, oh, she's terrible because she did those things. or, my girl would never do that. i just didn't think she was doing that. >> and these are all plugs that i bought from before. >> reporter: sofia says buying drugs is as easy as sending the right emoji to a so-called "plug," a dealer who finds customers on apps like snapchat. >> i'm looking for a little plug emoji, a fire emoji, just whatever emoji the normal dealers i have -- they're like, yo, hey, mama. you're like, yo, you got, whatever? slang terms for whatever. >> it can happen that fast? >> yeah. >> just by communicating on snapchat? >> uh-huh. >> by searching with the right
emoji? >> uh-huh. if you know where to go, it's really easy. >> reporter: it's a terrifying new playbook for drug dealing. now so common, the u.s. drug enforcement agency releasing this cheat sheet for parents and guardians, showing the emojis commonly used to buy drugs on social media. >> i cannot emphasize enough how deadly this drug is to human life, especially to unsuspecting youth in our community. these pills are widely available and often sold for dollars apiece on social media. >> reporter: and pictures showcasing how counterfeit pills they've seized from drug dealers look eerily similar to the real medications doctors prescribe. just days ago, snapchat issuing a statement detailing their efforts to flush out drug-related content and announcing steps to curb illegal activity, saying they have zero-tolerance for the promoting of illegal drugs on their platform. 20 miles south of lafayette, denver, colorado, police chief paul paysen feels like he's at
war. >> i get daily reports of suspected individuals who have passed away as a result of fentanyl overdoses. >> every day you're hearing of deaths? >> that's somebody's family that has just been devastated by fentanyl, by this very deadly drug. we have a situation where a father lost two sons on the exact same day from a fentanyl overdose. >> the ripple effect cannot be denied of what happens, especially when we have kids dying at school. passing out in the bathrooms. what are you seeing as the biggest problem when it comes to the actual ingestion of fentanyl? >> folks think that this might be something else that they're ingesting, so bringing awareness to this issue, that that pill may not be percocet, that pill may not be xanax, that that pill may contain fentanyl and potentially could be deadly is
critical. it's so cheap. site so easy to move. it's so addictive for the end user. we are going to need everybody coming together as a country, as a state -- federal, state, local law enforcement. >> reporter: colorado's house of representatives introducing a bill last month to enact stiffer criminal penalties on those involved with the sale and distribution of fentanyl. is there an end in sight? >> i'm not seeing that end. i'm seeing this issue getting worse. i'm seeing more and more people dying as a result of this issue. we need to do something about this immediately. >> reporter: officers like sergeant david cohen on the front lines day after day. and this time he saved sofia from becoming yet another statistic. >> when did it become clear to you that it was an overdose? >> i mean, i don't know if it ever became clear to me until i administered narcan and it worked. between training and experience
and being able to look around the room and seeing miscellaneous drug paraphernalia that goes a little bit above and beyond normal marijuana and alcohol use. >> and so because of that, you knew to administer the narcan? >> yes, ma'am. if it's not needed and you use it, it's going to do no harm. >> right. >> if it's needed and you use it, it's only going to do good. >> these kids are dying from one bad decision. and it almost happened to her. it's a hard time to be a parent of a teenager, even harder to be a teenager. >> reporter: with thousands of lives cut short by tainted drugs, sofia is one of the lucky ones. but she still bears the weight of her brush with death. >> that's been a very big part. like, the guilt that comes with -- like, i see firsthand the effects it had on everybody. being here, thinking, like, damn. all these kids are ought here, overdosing, never coming back. and i'm the one that came back.
like, why me? so i'm just trying to have the mindset that i'm here and i was a lucky one. i've got to make it worth it. >> this is what's in the box. there's two of these. >> reporter: father ryan on a mission to educate teens and parents on the dangers of dabbling in drug use. >> if someone were to watch this video, what do you want them to know? what do you want them to take away from it? >> first of all, i want them to know more about sofia than just this video. that's moment in her life but that's not who she is. i would want people to see that it can happen to even someone like sophfia, even their daught, even their son, even people you think it's the least likely to happen to, it can happen. >> our thanks to kayna whitworth. up next, what parents can do, what to look out for. we speak to the head of the dea and the top expert from the cdc. later, sofia's dad gets to meet the man who saved her life.
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♪ earlier tonight, i spoke to dr. deborah howrie, acting deputy director of the cdc and dea administrator anne milgrim. thank you both for join us. ms. milgrim, a recent study by the national institutes of health show law enforcement seized nearly 10 million pills laced with illicit fentanyl in 2021, up nearly 300 thousand since 2018. that is increase because law enforcement is getting better at finding and detecting these
pills, or is it just that more pervasive? >> i can tell you at the drug enforcement administration, in our federal agency alone we seized more than 20 million fake, counterfeit pills last year in 2021. that is an unpress amount. we've never seized as much. the bottom line is that fentanyl, it is the deadliest drug we're seeing in the united states right now. we're seizing it in all 50 states. it is tiny quantities that can be deadly for individuals. we've now seized in the past year enough fentanyl to be a deadly dose for every single american, and they're more widespread, in part because we know so many of these fake pills can be purchased almost anonymously on social media, on the dark net. and so there's just a prevalence that we're seeing throughout the country that we have never seen before. >> yeah, the numbers speak for themselves. we hit 100,000 plus overdose deaths in 12 months. dr. howrie, can you characterize how big a public health crisis this is?
>> absolutely. these overdoses were going up prepandemic, precovid. we've seen them accelerate during covid. as you said, over 100,000 people died from a drug overdose within the past year, more than two-thirds of those were related to fentanyl or illicit synthetic opioids. i think this is really a critical time in our nation to focus on drug overdose prevention and preventing people from misusing drugs and making sure that we have tools in place for them. test strips, and talking about it so we reduce the stigma. >> i know the dea has rolled out the "one pill can pill" program, trying to raise awareness of the deadliness. in a lot of instances we're talking about teens using these drugs. one pill can kill. it's a powerful message. it also is somewhat abstinence-only education. what's the most effective way to reach teens to get the message across and the danger here?
>> i think it's critical that it isn't just teenagers. so we do see a large number of young people who are purchasing pills. what we know is that china is providing chemicals to mexico, to the criminal drug networks, that are then mass-producing these fake prescription pills. they're being sold as if they were xanax, as if they were oxy, as if they were percocet. but it's fentanyl. it's not just young people, it's also older americans. right now this is the leading cause of death. overdoses are the leading cause of death for men between the age of 18 and 45. more overdose deaths than car accidents and gun violence. we have to be really expansive in understanding it's not just teens, it's americans of all ages. it cuts across every single demographic. rural, urban, suburban. and that people are dying at record rates. and that no amount of fentanyl is safe. the only pill you should be
taking is a pill that has been prescribed to you by a doctor and filled at your pharmacy. any other pill, whether it's given to you by a friend or purchased on social media, you have no idea whether that contains fentanyl, whether it contains a deadly dose. so that's why we're out there making sure that people are talking to one another about "one pill can kill" and understanding, there's a depth of a harm that we have not seen before. >> dr. houry, president biden has pledged nearly $43 billion in fund funding to fight drug use. some resources are going to be allocated to harm reduction. can you detail some of the things that would fall under that umbrella? >> when we think about harm reduction, we usually think about opioids or fentanyl. now that we're seeing fentanyl being mixed in things like cocaine and psycho simulants, making sure that people have naloxone, because that can reduce a deadly overdose from opioids. also access to treatment. so if you are misusing opioids,
you can be linked to treatment. certainly, really messaging around that fentanyl could be in any type of drug you're using. >> i know it's become increasingly common for people to carry around things like narcan. is that something you would recommend? >> yes, narcan or naloxone, i carry it in my purse. i think everybody should carry it. it's a life-saving drug that can reverse an overdose. >> you're a parent. as a doctor, as a parent, what do everyday parents need to be aware of, what do they need to be looking out for to try to pick up on these signs and prevent disaster? >> talk to your kids. understand that they're going to have influences around them, whether smoking or alcohol or drugs. tell them to come talk to you. tell them about the risks. one pill could kill, as administrator milgrim said, because fentanyl is in it. they might see drug use on tv or movies and it might look glamorous, but we don't know what is mixed in these pills. if their friends are using, come
talk to you. if they're having a problem controlling drugs, might be becoming addicted, there's treatment for it. >> dr. deborah houry, acting director of the cdc, dea administrator anne milgrim, appreciate your time, thank you for joining us. >> thank you. >> thank you. when we come back, a father says thank you. if you have diab, it's important to have confidence in the nutritional drink you choose. try boost glucose control®. it's clinically shown to help manage blood sugar levels and contains high quality protein to help manage hunger and support muscle health. y ost® today. can you be free of hair breakage worries? we invited mahault to see for herself that dove breakage remedy gives damaged hair the strength it needs. even with repeated combing hair treated with dove shows 97% less breakage. strong hair with new dove breakage remedy. number one beauty brand not tested on animals. my moderate to severe plaque psoriasis... ...the itching... the burning. the stinging. my skin was no longer mine. emerge tremfyant®. with tremfya®...
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all thanks to this man. sergeant david cohen. the officer whose quick thinking saved her life. >> this is for you. so that's her, celebrating her birthday, which she was only able to experience because of you. >> appreciate that. >> i got to hug you again. >> reporter: overwhelmed that he is one of the lucky ones whose daughter is still with him. >> that's "nightline." you can watch all our full episodes on hulu. we'll see you right back here at the same time tomorrow. thanks for staying up with u