Fake pills flooding the country, targeting teens: Dr. Laura Berman pushing for changes after young son’s death

WGN Investigates

An alarming trend has surfaced across the county: Teens dying after ingesting fake pills that are laced with the deadly synthetic drug fentanyl. Equally as alarming is where they are buying the drugs: Online sites that in some cases are directly marketing to teens.

 Back in February, Dr. Laura Berman revealed that her 16-year-old son died after buying fake prescription pills online. Turns out he is not alone.

More drug dealers are using social media platforms and fake online pharmacies to sell directly to teens. 

Fast forward to today. Law enforcement and the public are getting a sense of the large number of fake pills that are flooding the country. And teens are the prime target. WGN Investigates found websites and Instagram accounts operating openly. 

Thursday, May 20 on the WGN News at 9, Lourdes Duarte will explore and show you how these accounts work and what’s being done to stop them. 

Also, three months after the death of their son, the Bermans weigh-in on with what needs to happen. The family is working with Congress and they will talk about the PSA they’ve developed to get the public’s attention. 

And they’re not being held accountable.

 “It’s a situation where police are overwhelmed,” Berman’s husband, Sam Champman said.

WGN Investigates recently visited a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Chicago to get a look at the fake pills that have been intercepted.

Many of the drugs were shipped here via the mail from India, Mexico and China.

In all, federal officials seized 3,892 pounds of fake pills last year, up 70 percent from 2019. So far this year, the count stands at 2,576 pounds, putting them on pace to surpass last year’s mark.

 “They look legitimate, they look real,” Bob Bell, DEA’s special agent in charge in Chicago, said. “And purchasing these drugs is just as dangerous as buying drugs on the street. There’s no difference.”

 The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies estimates that 35,000 digital pharmacies are operating on the internet every day.

An estimated 96 percent are operating illegally.

The DEA is one of the lead organizations tackling the issue, shutting down web sites and working to arrest those behind them.

But Berman says more can be done.

She and her husband are pushing for all social media platforms to allow safety apps so that parents can track what their child is doing on the platforms. 

Some platforms allow the safety apps. Some like Tik Tok and Snapchat do not. 

“The social media companies lean on the fact that they can’t be charged with anything because of the privacy laws,” Berman said. “And all they would need to do is put on their website if you use this to break the law, your privacy will not be protected.”  

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