This week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a Public Safety Alert to warn people nationwide about an alarming increase in deadly counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine. The first such alert by DEA in six years, it comes at a time when overdose deaths are at record highs across the U.S.
More than 93,000 people suffered fatal overdoses in the U.S. last year, including an estimated 2,000 individuals who have died in New York City. The majority of these deaths are linked to fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid.
Threat to Drug Users Nationwide and in NYC
International and domestic criminal drug networks are flooding the U.S. with lethal pills. So far this year, the DEA seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills in the U.S., which is more than the last two years combined. Not only has the number of counterfeit pills increased, so has the potency of the counterfeits. DEA laboratory testing reveals a dramatic rise in the number of pills containing a lethal dose of at least two milligrams of fentanyl, a quantity small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.
“One Pill Can Kill” Public Awareness Campaign
The Public Safety Alert coincides with the launch of DEA’s “One Pill Can Kill” Public Awareness Campaign to educate the public of the dangers of counterfeit pills. DEA urges all Americans to be vigilant and aware of the dangers of counterfeit pills, and to take only medications prescribed by a medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. DEA warns that pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal. For more information, visit https://www.dea.gov/onepill.
The Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office and the DEA Work to Eliminate Lethal Batches of Pills
The Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and DEA New York Division collaborate in investigations resulting in the seizure of hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. The photo above depicts counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyFl recovered in the Bronx. Due to the widespread availability of look-alike pills on the streets of New York City, unsuspecting drug users face a heightened risk of overdose.
Counterfeits Mimic Real Prescription Drugs
Counterfeit pills are illegally manufactured to look like real pharmaceutical drugs, closely mirroring the size, color and marking of legitimate prescription drugs, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®). However, the effects the pills have on the body often bear little resemblance to the medications they were designed to imitate.
Production and Distribution Methods
Counterfeit pills smuggled into the U.S. are frequently produced in Mexico and China. Local drug distribution groups also manufacture their own pills from raw materials using pill presses. Fake prescription pills are sold on the street and on social media and e-commerce platforms – making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors.
DEA Administrator Warns of Unprecedented Crisis
“The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Anne Milgram, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before.
DEA Investigations in New York Increase by 300%
Ray Donovan, Special Agent in Charge New York Division said, “As drug cartels continue to push fentanyl into users’ hands, they have developed a profitable and potent dose in the form of a pill. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, these pills are lethal. DEA seizures of counterfeit pills made with fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other illegal drugs have increased 113% in the New York area. And counterfeit pill investigations in New York have increased 300%. This public safety alert is a warning to all New Yorkers that what they think may be a prescription pill, has a 42% chance of containing a lethal dose of fentanyl. This is also a reminder that the only safe prescription pill is one legitimately prescribed by your doctor for a legitimate reason.”
Drug Trafficking Linked to Violence
The DEA noted that drug trafficking is also inextricably linked to violence. This year alone, DEA seized more than 2,700 firearms in connection with drug trafficking investigations – a 30 percent increase since 2019.