DEA alert warns of ‘alarming increase’ in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl

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FILE – This photo provided by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah and introduced as evidence in a 2019 trial shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during an investigation. (U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP)

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A Public Safety Alert issued today in Washington, D.C., warns of the “alarming increase” of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. The pills are sometimes deadly, and are being mass-produced by criminal drug networks.

The alert, the first issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in six years, says 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been seized so far this year, which is more than the last two years combines.

DEA testing indicates a dramatic rise in the number of counterfeit pills containing at least two milligrams of fantanyl, which is considered a deadly dose.

The Nevada Department of Public Safety on Monday announced arrests in a suspected opioid/fentanyl distribution ring in Northern Nevada and Fresno, California.

Increasing reports in Southern Nevada prompted a warning from the Southern Nevada Health District in mid-August. The explosive growth in fentanyl comes after 246 deaths were attributed to the drug in 2020 in Nevada.

According to a DEA news release, the counterfeit pills often look like real prescription opioid medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®). Fake prescription pills are widely accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms – making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors.

Most of the counterfeit pills brought into the United States are produced in Mexico, and China is supplying chemicals for the manufacturing of fentanyl in Mexico, according to the DEA.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 93,000 people died of a drug overdose in the United States last year. Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid most commonly found in counterfeit pills, is the primary driver of this alarming increase in overdose deaths. Drug poisonings involving methamphetamine, increasingly found to be pressed into counterfeit pills, also continue to rise as illegal pills containing methamphetamine become more widespread.

Drug trafficking is linked to violence. So far in 2021, DEA has seized more than 2,700 firearms in connection with drug trafficking investigations – a 30% increase since 2019.

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