DEA Warns of Counterfeit Prescription Pills Laced With Fentanyl Being Sold Online

The counterfeit pill business has boomed in recent years, as more illicit drugs are being brought in from Mexico and manufactured here in the U.S., according to a warning issued by federal law enforcement officials.

The pills are manufactured to look like prescription drugs, including painkillers like Vicodin or oxycodone, ADHD drugs like Adderall, anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and others. However, the fake pills predominantly contain fentanyl or other potentially dangerous substances, which are being sold online to unsuspecting buyers.

Officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) say they have seen a spike in such counterfeit pills, and warn the products are putting lives in danger, with one out of four containing enough fentanyl to cause an overdose.

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Since 2018, counterfeit pill seizures have increased by 366%. In 2018, officials seized only 1,500 fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl. However, in only the first 10 weeks of 2021, more than 21,000 pills have been seized. Then this month, the DEA seized more than 600,000 counterfeit pills in Mexico.

The rising numbers suggest that this year may be similar to 2020.

On March 18, the DEA announced it had seized more than 3 million doses of counterfeit painkillers laced with fentanyl in Minnesota alone, an increase 0f 30% according to a press release. However, Minnesota is only one of many states across the country seeing a dramatic increase in counterfeit drugs laced with potentially lethal doses of the narcotic painkiller fentanyl.

Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. A lethal dose is only two milligrams, or the size of a few grains of salt. That is enough to kill an adult. Drug traffickers use fentanyl because it is cheap and easy to make, increasing their profits.

Roughly one in four illicit pills contain lethal doses of fentanyl. And telling the fakes from the real prescription drugs can be nearly impossible for the untrained eye, especially among teens and young adults who think they may be getting the prescription drug they want at a much lower cost.

Reports across the country detail the many lives lost to teens and young adults who unknowingly took what they thought was a prescription drug and instead received a counterfeit pill laced with highly potent illicit fentanyl. In 2017, fentanyl was linked to more than 50% of opioid deaths.

In 2018, the CDC categorized fentanyl as the most dangerous drug in the country. Federal authorities warn, if a drug is being sold online or via social media it is most likely a counterfeit. This is the main way traffickers are getting fentanyl into the hands of users.

“We want people to be aware of the dangers these counterfeit pills carry with them,” said Justin C. King, DEA Omaha Division Special Agent in Charge. “The only prescription medication people should take are those prescribed by a licensed physician and coming directly from a pharmacy.”


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