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Counterfeit pills have been on the rise as drug dealers find easier - and cheaper methods - of creating addictive drugs. Instead of using substances from plants, the majority of counterfeit drugs are made with synthetic substances - substances that often alter the reaction that a drug produces and its level of intensity. This heightens the addictive potential of the substances, leaving the users seeking substance abuse treatment after fewer doses.

One such case - among many - is that of the Drug-Induced Homicide Group. Created and led by Matt Capelouto, the group is dedicated to fighting the ever-evolving drug crisis. Like many other groups - Victims of Illicit Drugs, Mothers Against Drug Deaths, and Alexander Neville Foundation - the Drug-Induced Homicide Group wants to change drug policies in America, particularly in California.

The current drug policy in California focuses on treating drug-related incidents as a ‘health problem.’ Groups like Drug-Induced Homicide want to change these policies and create stricter sentencing for drug dealers - turning California's ‘public-health drug policy’ into a criminal drug policy.

What are the reasons behind the organization’s set-up?

On the 22nd of December 2019, Matt Capelouto returned home to find his 19-year-old daughter - Alexandra Capelouto - unconscious in her bedroom. She had died from a counterfeit pill that contained fentanyl, an incredibly dangerous and unpredictable synthetic opioid. The death of Alexandra spurred Matt Capelouto to found the organization - Drug-Induced Homicide Group.

Matt, however, isn’t alone in his struggle.

2019, in particular, saw high levels of drug-related deaths - often the cause of counterfeit pills - among college and high-school students across America. In most of these cases, the teenagers thought they were taking Oxycontin or Xanax - both fairly popular drugs in the US. The truth was, online-drug dealers on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram weren’t being honest about what was in these drugs or that they contained fentanyl - the chemical that ultimately led to their deaths.

While groups like Drug-Induced Homicide want to amp up sentencing and stricter police measures, could it be that transparency and openness are better alternatives? Teenagers and young people often feel like they can’t open up about the drugs they’re taking - especially to their parents. In a society fuelled by the idea of a ‘war on drugs’ stricter police measures could make young people feel too afraid to open up to their guardians or seek help when it’s needed. Education is also flawed, teaching children about the dangers and criminal consequences of taking drugs - thinking that this alone is enough to stop them in their tracks. Perhaps we, as a society, should all be focusing on educating young people not only on the consequences of drugs - but also on how to take drugs safely and what to avoid. It’s inevitable that young people will continue to take drugs. It’s unlikely to ever be abolished fully, so maybe a better course of action would be to inform children as early as possible about the dangers and how to protect themself. Armed with knowledge and insight, maybe they would make smarter - and safer decisions - about the drugs they use and where they buy them from.

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These alternatives are already being somewhat trialed in the UK, with groups such as The Loop and Bristol Drug Project’s ‘The Drops’ regularly setting up drug-testing labs at festivals to ensure party-goers can check whether their drugs are safe to consume or not.

These alternatives, however, are unlikely to console the hundreds of thousands of parents and guardians who have been left without a child - all because of a drug-related death.

What these organizations are doing is bringing together parents and families, proving that drugs and drug-related deaths can affect anyone from any class. We’re often told that drugs affect those in lower socio-economic backgrounds, but as Alexandra Capelouto and hundreds of others prove - this isn’t always the case. A lot of drug-related deaths and overdoses also happen to children and young people who happen to be athletes or A-star students - a revelation that challenges the age-old stigma.

Groups like Drug-Induced Homicide, which have sprung out of the homes of normal American families, have now started collaborating with one another on a more national scale. What these groups offer is a sense of ‘I’m not alone in this,’ and cooperation that makes for larger-scale opposition against the USA’s current drug policy.

There are others, however, who question the move to stricter sentencing. While it’s clear that drug dealers - the ones with the power to hand out drugs - should be punished, what’s unclear is how this will affect drug users themselves. As mentioned previously, this kind of policy could push even more young people into dangerous drug situations. One such parent who agrees with this approach is Gretchen Burns Bergman. Her son has been in and out of prison for years, all for the same kind of ‘menial’ charges such as possession. She, like many parents who have faced similar situations, believes that stricter measures - particularly against drug users - are counter-productive and that it does more harm than good.

And where does Matt Capelouto currently stand now - three years down the line?

He hasn’t given up. In fact, he isn’t even close to being finished. He wants his voice to be heard - and he still pushes for stricter sentencing of drug dealers. In a sort of ode to his 19-year-old daughter - Alexandra - Matt continues to campaign and rally against California’s current drug policy. His main goal is to get ‘Alexandra’s Law’ into committee and part of the justice system. Named after his daughter, the law - if declared - would ultimately ‘bridge the gap between law enforcement and the state laws in California which allow drug dealers to get away with murder.’