This past Fall, the US Drug Enforcement Administration issued a safety alert concerning the problem of International and domestic criminal drug networks flooding the United States with lethal counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. According to the alert, these pills – over 10 million seized last year — are “mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs, deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, and are killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate.” The alert went on to say:
“Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before. In fact, DEA lab analyses reveal that two out of every five fake pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. 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.”
(Note that the alert does not apply to legitimate pharmaceutical medications prescribed by medical professionals and dispensed by licensed pharmacists.)
Law enforcement agencies all over the country are feeling the pain.
- In December, the US Attorney’s office for the District of Idaho highlighted the danger that counterfeit prescription pills posed to their community and reported that their state’s overdose deaths increased for the third year in a row with the incidents of overdose nearly 20 times the number of deaths.
- The Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau has seen problems with school-age kids buying a drug commonly referred to as Xanax, but which were fakes that contained fentanyl and other synthetics, and caused many teens to overdose.
- In January, the DEA of Detroit, Michigan, reported that counterfeit pills are flooding Metro Detroit and people are running into them when they buy pills from street-level dealers. He said the pills found actually contained deadly fentanyl and people were overdosing and dying as a result.
- During the first half of 2020, deaths caused by fentanyl in Florida increased by 81%, making it the most dangerous drug in the state. The Chief Medical Officer in the southern state explained that it’s affecting many people “who have never used a drug before, who might just be out of their prescription, find a pill online or they obtain it some way and they end up dying or they end up seriously sick.”
The alert outlined how counterfeit pills are illegally manufactured by criminal drug networks and are made to 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.
The alert also noted that the vast majority of counterfeit pills brought into the United States are produced in Mexico, and China is supplying chemicals for the manufacturing of fentanyl in Mexico. The fake drugs are being hidden in all different ways to get past customs and border patrols. There are reports of containers of pills disguised as decorative stones being confiscated at Mediterranean ports, glass bottles of what is supposed to be lotion instead stuffed with vials of steroids, nerve pain tablets hidden inside tins of baked beans, and fake and illicit drugs have been found hidden amongst legitimate products including clothes, jewelry, toys, food and baby products.
The 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. A record number of fake online pharmacies stationed around the world have been shut down, and government agencies are investing in technologies to help find the counterfeit drugs.
One technology law enforcement agencies are utilizing is chemical identification. Handheld material identification devices utilize dual technologies – Raman and FTIR – in a single instrument, to quickly and accurately identify the unknown substance.
- The Raman technology enables a user to conduct non-contact and non-destructive analysis of samples in transparent and translucent containers without the need to open them and manipulate each sample, thus increasing user safety.
- Conversely, although FTIR requires direct contact analysis, it is more efficient and safer when identifying dark-colored substances such as black tar heroin. It also has fewer chemical limitations and performs better on substances that suffer from very high levels of fluorescence, which sometimes obscures Raman spectra.
Both technologies thus complement each other as well as confirm results obtained by each other. (We previously wrote how U.S. airports are using spectroscopy instruments for incoming drugs.)
Although the alert was published in the Fall, it is still timely and valuable to the public. The issuance of the DEA’s Public Safety Alert was to educate the public of the dangers of counterfeit pills. The “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.”
celecoxib 200 mg capsule says
Thank you for sharing this Information.