HOUSTON - Greater Houston is no stranger to illicit pill-making operations where outlaw "garage chemists" mass-produce thousands of potentially deadly doses, using commercial grade machines.
In recent years the business of "counterfeit pill" production has only gotten bigger and more lethal.
"Don't take the pill. Don't play Russian roulette with your life, because that is what's happening right now," said Daniel Comeaux, Agent in charge of Houston's Drug Enforcement Administration Houston Division.
Comeaux says pill manufacturing operations here are controlled by Mexican Drug Cartels and are now producing and distributing products with fentanyl, the ultra-powerful synthetic opiate responsible for hundreds of thousands of American deaths by overdose.
"It's really just these mad chemists. These guys in a garage just putting these pills together," said Comeaux. "They could put one too many grains in a pill and it's an immediate overdose, immediate death because everyone's tolerance is a little bit different."
Here are the grim facts: In 2020 alone more than 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, a 30 percent year-over-year increase, and the largest number ever recorded. That's 252 deaths per day, the majority of which were triggered by synthetic opiates like fentanyl.
Comeaux says the drugs are being trafficked by the Houston area's 400 criminal gangs - a ruthless trade his agents are aggressively working to crack in close partnership with local law enforcement.
"It's bad guys. It's gang members working together as one. Back in the day, it was different," said Comeaux. "Everybody was separate. Everyone would do their own thing which actually made it better for law enforcement to attack them because it was each cell working. We focus on a cell. We could knock it out. Right now they are teaming up as one being this one big huge gang to make money and cause violence in the City."
It's Comeaux's belief a crackdown on gang-related drug trafficking will trigger a reduction in gang-related violence that's contributing to a crime wave many in local law enforcement are calling "unprecedented."