The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued a public safety alert over an “alarming” increase in fake prescription pills laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl or the stimulant methamphetamine.
“The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the alert.
“Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before. DEA is focusing resources on taking down the violent drug traffickers causing the greatest harm and posing the greatest threat to the safety and health of Americans,” Milgram said.
Criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake fentanyl- and methamphetamine-laced pills and deceptively marketing them as legitimate prescription pills, the DEA warns.
These lethal counterfeit pills are made to look like legitimate prescription opioid medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and alprazolam (Xanax); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall).
The agency has seized fake pills in every US state. More than 9.5 million fake pills have been seized so far this year — more than the last 2 years combined.
The number of seized counterfeit pills with fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019. DEA lab tests reveal that 2 out of every 5 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.
These deadly pills are widely accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms — making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors, the DEA warns.
More than 93,000 people died of a drug overdose in the United States last year, according to federal statistics, and fentanyl is the primary driver of this alarming increase in overdose deaths, the DEA says.
The agency has launched a “One Pill Can Kill” public awareness campaign to educate the public of the dangers of counterfeit pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy. These pills are “illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal,” the DEA warns.
This alert does not apply to legitimate pharmaceutical medications prescribed by doctors and dispensed by licensed pharmacists, the DEA says.
“The legitimate prescription supply chain is not impacted. Anyone filling a prescription at a licensed pharmacy can be confident that the medications they receive are safe when taken as directed by a medical professional,” the agency says.