DEA warns of spike in counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl, meth

Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration said Monday that they’ve seen an alarming increase in the number of fake prescription pills available nationwide which contain fentanyl and methamphetamine, sometimes in deadly doses.

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The counterfeit pills, made to look like prescription medications such as oxycodone, Vicodin, Xanax or Adderall, are often being sold online through e-commerce and social media platforms, authorities said.

“International and domestic criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake pills, falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription pills, and killing unsuspecting Americans,” officials said in a public safety alert. “These counterfeit pills have been seized by DEA in every U.S. state, and in unprecedented quantities.”

Since Jan. 1, officials have seized over 9.5 million counterfeit pills, more than the amounts seized in the last two years combined, according to the DEA. The number of pills containing fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019. Simultaneously, officials reported “a dramatic rise in the number of counterfeit pills containing at least two milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a deadly dose.”

Two out of every five fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills seized by the DEA contains a potentially lethal dose of the drug, according to the agency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, up 30% from the year before. Authorities said Monday that fentanyl “is the primary driver of this alarming increase.”

“In Philadelphia County alone, there were 1,214 overdose deaths in 2020; fentanyl was identified in 81% percent of these deaths,” Thomas Hodnett, acting special agent in charge of the DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division, said in a statement. “It is our hope that this public safety alert will raise awareness about the threat that these pills pose in our region and across the nation at large.”

The public safety alert issued Monday was the first to come from the DEA since 2015, when the agency warned of the dangers of fentanyl. The opioid can be as many as 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, according to officials. Meanwhile, it is cheaper than heroin to produce and distribute, according to The New York Times.

The alert issued Monday applies only to counterfeit pills, and not those which were legally prescribed and dispensed by medical professionals, authorities said.