The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wants the public to be aware of a troubling new trend in the illegal drug trade.
“Mexican drug cartels are manufacturing mass quantities of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl,” the government agency said in a press release on Monday.
Unsuspecting buyers may think they are purchasing prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin, when in reality the pills may contain synthetic opioids. Statistics gathered from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that there were over 28,000 fatalities involving synthetic opioids in 2017.
“Fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than heroin,” said DEA supervisory chemist Jill Head. “Two milligrams of fentanyl is what’s considered a lethal dose for about 95% of the population.”
Experts say that a 30 mg oxycodone pill can sell for up to $30 on the street. This lucrative market is what has led drug cartels to begin manufacturing replicas of prescription opioids.
“Capitalizing on the opioid epidemic and prescription drug abuse in the United States, drug trafficking organizations are now sending counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in bulk to the United States for distribution,” said Uttam Dhillon, acting administrator of the DEA. “Counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl and fentanyl-laced heroin are responsible for thousands of opioid-related deaths in the United States each year.”
In August 2019, authorities seized nearly half a million counterfeit pills (worth approximately $2.3 million) at a New Jersey storefront.
According to the CDC, the states with the highest fatality rates stemming from synthetic opioid use are West Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire. Males between the ages of 25-44 are considered most at-risk.
A DEA sampling of counterfeit pills collected nationwide between January and March 2019 revealed that 27% contained potentially deadly doses of fentanyl.
“It’s like playing Russian Roulette,” journalist David Rose warned. “Just one pill can kill you.