CARROLLTON, Texas — The Carrollton teens made their drug deals on Instagram.
One 16-year-old drug dealer asked, “tryna see if u can do $130 for 40 30s?”
That’s slang for buying 40 M30 pills for $130.
But the teenager was not trying to buy prescription oxycodone M30s. Instead, he was buying counterfeit pills made to look like the real thing, laced with the deadly drug fentanyl.
“The addiction is what drives these kids,” said the Carrollton Police sergeant who oversaw the investigation into at least a dozen teenage overdoses that began last September.
The sergeant, who oversees the department’s street crimes unit, works undercover and asked WFAA to conceal his identity.
“They make money off of selling pills and they use that money to buy more pills for their own personal addiction,” the sergeant said. “This substance is so dangerous, and it's deadly that we didn't have time to waste.”
Three teenagers died in connection with those overdoses. The overdose victims ranged in age from 13 to 17 years of age.
His unit’s work led to the arrests of three adults and eight teenage drug dealers.
“This work started outside of the spotlight like much police work does,” Carrollton Police Chief Robert Arredondo told WFAA.
Arredondo previously served as a Dallas police commander, and until recently had been police chief in Victoria, before becoming Carrollton’s police chief in early January. Since taking the job, he’s found himself at the center of the North Texas fight against fentanyl.
“When they say one pill can kill, it is absolutely 100 percent true,” Arredondo said.
In fact, the bodies of teenagers began showing up at the Dallas County morgue in 2020. There have been at least 21 deaths to date.
The deaths are spread throughout the county, with the youngest victim, an 11-year-old who died in Irving in October 2020.
Most of the teens were found in bedrooms by family members, having overdosed alone.
“My heart goes out to the city of Carrollton,” said Lance Sumpter, director of the Texoma High Intensity Drug Task Area (HIDTA), which is a federal program that targets drug dealing. “But pick a city in this Metroplex and it’s Carrollton someday. Hopefully, it's not next week. Hopefully, it's not next month. But there is nothing special about Carrollton that drew the problem there.”
As the overdoses continued to occur in Carrollton, the sergeant and his street crimes unit narrowed their investigation to a run-down house on Highland Drive in Carrollton.
That’s where Luis Navarrete and Magaly Cano lived.
Court records said detectives watched as the couple supplied deadly drugs to students from nearby R. L. Turner High School.
Their investigation also led them to Jason Villanueva, who court papers allege “directly or indirectly” supplied eight underage drug dealers.
“It really goes to show how easily a juvenile can be influenced, and those adult drug dealers were using their influence on young children and preying on them,” Arredondo said.
The sergeant told WFAA that the counterfeit pills typically sell on the streets for about $10 each.
“Sometimes these pills, they'll get four uses out of a single pill, so they'll break it into quarters and get four uses out of one,” he said. “There's no consistency in the way that the pills are made. There could be a fatal amount of fentanyl on one side of a single pill and the other side have absolutely nothing.”
Early on, he said, the teens may have thought they were buying legitimate oxycodone pills. He no longer believes that’s the case.
“In my opinion, at this point in March 2023, these kids know it's fentanyl,” the sergeant said.
According to Dallas County Medical Examiner’s records, 18-year-old Joshua Joel died in October 2022 of the “toxic effects of fentanyl” at his family’s apartment on South Josey Lane in Carrollton.
Records show his father found him “unresponsive and face down on the closet floor” of his bedroom.
Fourteen-year-old Jose Alberto Perez died Jan. 26.
His mother, Lilia Astudillo, says he was one of the three kids that died from a fentanyl overdose. His cause of death is still pending.
“They don't know the pain they are causing us,” Astudillo said last month. “Losing a child, it's something very hard, very tough, and I don't wish that upon anyone, not even them. “
In some cases, kids repeatedly overdosed.
WFAA’s learned that a 14-year-old Carrollton girl's overdosed as many as four times since Dec. 24. In one case, she suffered temporary paralysis.
“It is shocking me that after experiencing the loss of your legs, you’d go back to that substance again," the sergeant said. "That speaks to the addictive nature of the substance."
Even after the arrests of Navarrete, Cano and Villanueva, court records allege others have tried to move in to claim their territory.
According to court records, Donovan Andrews posted online under the screenname, “deegetbandz_3x” that he was glad Navarrete and Cano were getting all the attention. He posted that he had pills for sale for “10$….A….POP.”
Authorities have linked him to several drug overdoses involving Carrollton and Lewisville teenagers in February. He was arrested March 1. He now also faces a federal drug distribution charge.
The sergeant had a troubling warning to other police departments.
“It's coming your way,” he said. “When that first overdose occurs, investigate it fully and completely in trying to identify the responsible party as quickly as you can.”