Drug overdose deaths are at historically high levels in the United States, with a preliminary estimate of more than 105,000 deaths in 2022 . And now with the proliferation of counterfeit aka fake pills, which are not manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, but are typically made to look like legitimate pharmaceutical pills, things are getting worse.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public safety alert about a sharp increase of fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine about two years ago. According to the agency, more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized in 2021, more than the prior two years combined.
The majority of counterfeit pills are being solicited as oxycodone, hydrocodone, xanax and aderrall, all of which are controlled substances and require a prescription. These counterfeit pills are fake medications that have different ingredients than the actual medication they are being presented as. They may contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient, or have the right ingredient in the wrong quantity. While so much is unknown about what’s actually in these pills, what we do know is that counterfeit pills may contain lethal amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine. They are extremely dangerous because they often appear identical to legitimate prescription pills. Often, the user is unaware of how lethal they can be.
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl was involved in nearly all overdose deaths with evidence of counterfeit pills use, including more than two out of five deaths that were exclusively caused by it, the CDC researchers found. Methamphetamine was detected in about a quarter of deaths where counterfeit pills were involved, while cocaine and benzodiazepines were present in more than one in eight cases.
The DEA has said that the vast majority of counterfeit pills brought into the United States are produced in Mexico. Many of these drugs are produced by gangs and criminal drug networks and made to look like prescription opioid drugs such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, or stimulants used to treat ADHD like adderal, and anti-anxiety medication like xanax..
Counterfeits are also being sold on the internet and by unsafe websites posing as online pharmacies. Often consumers turn to online pharmacies because of convenience, privacy and cost savings; however, some websites sell medicines that are dangerous or even deadly.
Only use pharmaceutical pills that are prescribed to you and received directly from a pharmacy or other health care provider.
Do not take any unlabeled or unpackaged pills because you cannot rely on the “appearance of a pill” because these are being copied to look like the real thing.
For those who will still use these types of drugs despite being advised not to – access to fentanyl test strips and other drug-checking products and services can help identify the content of pills.
Anyone who uses medications prescribed or not, or knows someone who does, to carry multiple doses of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone (name-brand “Narcan”). In many states you can purchase this over the counter without a prescription, and some hospital emergency rooms are part of federal programs that provide for the distribution of naloxone free upon request with no questions asked.