Americans are being warned to beware of potentially deadly counterfeit prescription pills containing the potent opioid fentanyl and the highly addictive stimulant methamphetamine. Counterfeit pills have been linked to a wave of drug overdoses, taking the lives of unsuspecting users.
In its first warning in six years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said international and domestic criminal networks were mass-producing counterfeit pills and unfairly marketing them as legitimate prescription drugs.
“The counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and highly addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram at a news conference in Washington.
The notification was issued last week after the DEA announced that it had seized over 1.8 million counterfeit pills and arrested over 810 people during a two-month undercover operation. In a statement, the agency said it had seized more than 9.5 million potentially lethal pills last year.
“Illegal fentanyl was responsible for nearly three-quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said. Health officials report that fentanyl was responsible for about 70,000 overdose deaths.
US law enforcement investigators say most counterfeit drugs found in the US are being made in laboratories in Mexico using chemicals imported from China. The DEA believes that Chinese smugglers have mainly switched from manufacturing finished fentanyl to exporting synthetic opioids to Mexican cartels, who then manufacture illegal fentanyl. US officials are now calling for more cooperation from Mexican law enforcement agencies to stop smuggling into the country.
DEA laboratory testing showed that two of the five fentanyl-laced counterfeit tablets seized contained a potentially lethal dose of just 2 milligrams. Fentanyl can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Drug researchers say the lethal dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.
“The seized counterfeit pills were capable of killing more than 700,000 people,” Milgram said, as law enforcement agencies sought to shut down criminal distribution networks selling pills that were exactly the same as name-brand prescription drugs. look like. “We are alerting the public to this danger so that people have the information they need to protect themselves and their children.”
The DEA alert said the drugs prescribed by doctors and given by licensed pharmacists were safe, but pills acquired by other means were potentially lethal.
decade of death
Since 1999, more than 500,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses, both prescription and non-prescription. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths have increased in nearly all states, with the largest increases in California, Kentucky, Vermont, South Carolina and West Virginia.
Over 9.5 million counterfeit tablets seized this year is 430% more than the number seized in 2019. The DEA also confiscated materials used to make tens of millions of pills, including more than 4,000 kilograms of methamphetamine.
“The prevalence of these illicit drugs, and the fatal overdoses that often result, is a problem that cuts across the US from small towns to large cities, and everything in between,” Monaco said.
The most common counterfeit pills are being made to look similar to stimulant drugs such as Oxycontin, Xanax, Vicodin or amphetamine. Investigators say counterfeit drugs are widely available and sold on social media platforms as well as on the streets.
“Illegal drug supplies introduce even more uncertainty about what people are taking, and that contributes to overdoses.” Caleb Alexander, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, told VOA. “If someone mixes fentanyl with heroin or methamphetamine or any other illegal product, it can be fatal.”