By Jason Allen

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Deaths connected to the deadly drug fentanyl have soared past last year’s totals in Tarrant County, mirroring a trend nationwide.

Despite receiving new attention in 2021 from families of victims, law enforcement and drug awareness organizations, county records showed as many as 123 deaths connected to fentanyl through November. That was nearly a 30-percent increase over 2020.

READ MORE: College Admissions SAT Test Getting Shorter, Going Completely Digital By 2024

An analysis of CDC data from opioid awareness organization Families Against Fentanyl found fentanyl became the leading cause of death in the country in the last year for Americans between 18 and 45. It topped suicide, COVID-19 and car accidents according to the research.

Wednesday the Department of Justice announced $300 million in grants to abuse and treatment programs, to combat what it called a “precipitous rise” in overdoses.

There has been “maybe a little” progress in public awareness, according to Dr. Artee Gandhi, a pain management specialist at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

“But obviously not enough,” she said.  “Because the overdose rates are still increasing and the deaths are still increasing and young adults are still getting access to opioids.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration increased seizures of the drug this year, in the form of fake pills, often coming into Texas over the Mexico border. It took in more than 11,000 pounds, more than double the two previous years combined.

Manufacturers however started putting the drug, which can be fatal is as little as two milligrams, into new forms. Fake pills which are often sold via social media not only resemble pain pills now, but medications like Adderall and Ritalin, which younger children are familiar with. If they survive taking one of the fakes, they can easily become addicted.

READ MORE: Dense Fog In North Texas Gives Way To Afternoon Sunshine & Falling Temperatures Overnight

“It really is just a matter of thinking, adolescence, right? They experiment. They do things they don’t have the proper judgement to think this is not a good idea,” Dr. Gandhi said.

Parents organized their own awareness campaigns this year, taking part of a series of national public rallies over the summer.

Stephanie Hellstern started speaking in schools, and started her own campaign, Kyle Still Speaks, named after her son who died in 2020. Kids seem to be aware of the prevalence of the pills, she said. Adults are not though. And she said she still sees a lack of interest from elected officials.

“It’s kind of coming up from us, trying to bring awareness, instead of coming down and everybody knowing about it,” she said.

Tarrant County data shows at least seven children under the age of 17 died from fentanyl-related causes this year. The youngest victim was 12 years old.

Dr. Gandhi said the mental health crisis due to the pandemic has contributed to higher usage rates. Access to substance abuse programs, continued awareness education, and attention to eliminating drug access via social media will all be key, she said, to slowing the trend in the next year.

MORE NEWS: Here's How Long It Will Take To Get Your 2022 Tax Refund