DEA issues warning over counterfeit prescription pills from Mexico

2 milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal dose in most people. Photo: DEA

The Drug Enforcement Administration is alerting the public of dangerous counterfeit pills killing Americans.

Mexican drug cartels are manufacturing mass quantities of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid that is lethal in minute doses, for distribution throughout North America.

Based on a sampling of tablets seized nationwide between January and March 2019, DEA found that 27 percent contained potentially lethal doses of fentanyl.

“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 DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon in a release, adding, “Counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl and fentanyl-laced heroin are responsible for thousands of opioid-related deaths in the United States each year.”

Fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids remain the primary driver behind the ongoing opioid crisis, with fentanyl involved in more deaths than any other illicit drug.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful opioid properties, Fentanyl is also diverted for abuse. Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or be disguised as highly potent heroin. Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths. Clandestinely-produced fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico.

“Buying drugs from street dealers is deadly, especially when fentanyl is disguised as a real pharmaceutical,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle. “The DEA and our local, state and federal law enforcement partners stand committed to taking deadly fentanyl off the streets of New England and ensuring those who manufacture and traffic these lethal pills are held accountable to the communities and families they damage with this poison.”

A lethal dose of fentanyl is estimated to be about two milligrams, but can vary based on an individual’s body size, tolerance, amount of previous usage and other factors.

The full Fentanyl Signature Profiling Program Report on the recent drug sampling and testing is available online.