The pills are sometimes deadly and are being mass-produced by criminal drug networks, the feds say.
The alert, the first issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency in six years, says the DEA has confiscated some 9.5 million counterfeit pills so far this year, which is more than the last two years combined. The agency warns that the pills have been seized in every U.S. state in “unprecedented quantities.”
DEA testing indicates a dramatic rise in the number of counterfeit pills containing at least two milligrams of fentanyl – which is considered a deadly dose and could fit on the tip of a pencil.
“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. “In fact, DEA lab analyses reveal that two out of every five fake pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose … Today, we are alerting the public to this danger so that people have the information they need to protect themselves and their children.”
According to the 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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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 meth, 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.