Reality Check in Jaffrey hosts DEA representative to speak on illicit drug trends

  • Brian O'Keefe, a community outreach specialist with the Drug Enforcement Administration, speaks during a Zoom call about a recent trend to disguise illicit drugs as prescription medications. The talk was sponsored by Reality Check in Jaffrey Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/10/2022 12:47:08 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 12:46:17 PM

Brian O’Keefe, a community outreach specialist at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and former Manchester police officer, said he has seen the growing problem with opioids and by the end of his career was beginning to see the growing use of other drugs such as methamphetamine in the state.

“I see and saw first-hand what was happening in our community,” O’Keefe said.

Reality Check in Jaffrey, a nonprofit that provides drug, alcohol and other substance-abuse services, hosted O’Keefe in a Zoom session Thursday to talk about the continuing issue of narcotic abuse and addiction, and what it looks like in small communities.

And what it looks like, O’Keefe said, isn’t always what people picture. For one thing, most street drugs are cut with other drugs, most often fentanyl – a much-stronger opioid than prescription painkillers or heroin, highly addictive and with a high potential for overdose.

“Fentanyl is getting mixed into everything,” O’Keefe said. “There are no two batches that are alike.”

There is also a trend, O’Keefe said, of pressing drugs like heroin and methamphetamine into pills that mimic other prescription medication such as Adderall, Xanax or Percocet. Analysis of pills seized by the DEA showed that as many as 26% of these pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.

The pills can look legitimate, O’Keefe said, and by looks alone, there’s no real way to tell a fake pill from an authentic one prescribed by a doctor and obtained through a pharmacy.

From October to mid-December last year, the DEA seized as many as 8.4 million fake pills and 1,500 pounds of fentanyl powder. Over the entire year, the DEA seized 20.4 million fake pills -- more than the past two years combined. Counterfeit pills have been identified in all 50 states.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2019, there were 4,777 overdose deaths nationally among teens and young adults age 15 through 24, with the vast majority – 3,391 – attributed to heroin or other illicit opioids, and an additional 672 attributed to common prescription opioids.

There were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths last year, according to the DEA, with 64% of those deaths attributed to opioids, primarily fentanyl. Another 28% involved psychostimulants, primarily methamphetamine.

O’Keefe said during his time in law enforcement, methamphetamine was not a common issue in the state, but because it is cheap to produce, large-scale producers have been pushing to increase its use in the Northeast, and by the time he left the Manchester Police Department, it was starting to become more common.

“It’s nasty,” O’Keefe said.

Members of the Rindge Police Department, local recreation department representatives and other members of the community viewed the call. Julia Chidester, program coordinator for the Peterborough Recreation Department, asked for those who work with children, what community members should be on the look out for or how to act preventatively.

O’Keefe said there was no substitute for simply being involved with children’s lives, and talking to them as a mentor.

“You can’t start young enough,” O’Keefe said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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