Alert: Fake Fentanyl Pills Increasingly Found in US Drug Busts

A recent research shows a significant increase in the number of counterfeit fentanyl pills being picked up by the police, thus, being a proof of the growing illicit drug supply that is now driving the country’s historic opioid crisis.

The research, published last Monday in the International Journal of Drug Policy, shows that the number of pills containing illicit fentanyl that were seized by law enforcement in 2023 was more than 115 million, compared to over 71 million in 2022. The study revealed that the number of pills confiscated last year was 2,300 times more than the about 50,000 confiscated in 2017.

The fake Fentanyl pills are made to look like the real opioid prescription drugs, like oxycodone or benzodiazepines, but they are usually far more dangerous.

Public health officers have been informing people about the fact that the illicit drug supply is being contaminated with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, for more than ten years. The latest report stresses the increasing risk of extremely harmful and cheap fake pills, mostly in the western U. S.

“Joseph Palamar, an associate professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, warns that illicit fentanyl availability is rapidly rising in the U.S., especially in fentanyl-containing pills. He stresses the urgency of public health initiatives to prevent youth access and inadvertent overdoses.”

The study was headed by researchers who are the members of the National Drug Early Warning System, a federal program that is in charge of the drug seizures in 33 High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas all over the country. The information is sourced from a collection of federal, state and local law enforcement organizations. It is not inclusive of the seizures made by U. S. Customs and Border Protection.

4-in-10 deadly drug overdose deaths are caused by fentanyl.

Among the factors fueling the spread: The fake Fentanyl pills are cheaper to create and purchase, and the social media and the dark web have made it easier for them to be bought online. Fentanyl is also a drug that delivers a very intense but very short high, thus people consume more of it than the other opioids they would.

Besides, it works much quicker and is usually much stronger than heroin and morphine, this makes it more addictive and, therefore, it is much easier to overdose. In the fake prescription pill way, it can get confused for a safer drug. To be frank, the exact quantity of fentanyl in them is unknown.

Furthermore, it is also rapid-acting and often more potent than heroin and morphine, thus being very addicting and making it much easier to overdose. Moreover, the fentanyl can be imitated by the fake prescription pill form and it can be confused as a safe drug. However, in reality, the amount of fentanyl in them cannot be determined.

In 2021, illegally obtained fentanyl was the only drug that was involved in 41% of drug overdose deaths and which there is evidence of counterfeit pill use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The counterfeit pills have become a bigger part of overall fentanyl seizures, the study showed. Fentanyl seizures increased more than fourfold between 2017 and 2023. Almost half of the fentanyl seizures of the last year were in the form of the fake pill as opposed to the 10% of the fentanyl seizures at the beginning of that period.

Majority of the fentanyl pill seizures were in the western states of the US.

The research underlines the fact that the opioid crisis, which has been historically the worst in the eastern states, has now grown even more in the western states.

Although the bulk of the fentanyl seizures in 2023 — powder and pill form — happened in Florida, the second and third-most seizures occurred in Arizona and California, respectively.

The researchers have yet again discovered that the highest number of seizures of illicit fentanyl pills specifically, were in the western states. In there, the pills took almost 78% of all fentanyl seizures in the region in the last year.

The total number of pill seizures was highest in California, next to Arizona and Colorado.

“Caleb Banta-Green, a research professor at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, notes that much of the fentanyl on the West Coast originates from Mexico, where precursors from China are used for production.”

Banta-Green, who also heads the UW’s Community-Engaged Drug Education, Epidemiology & Research Center, states that the rise of the fentanyl supply in the West, as the study presumes, is what he has observed in Washington state.

In the last two years only, fentanyl has surpassed heroin as the most widely used opioid in the state, according to a community survey conducted by the center.

The proliferation of fentanyl-tainted fake prescription pills has also resulted in many people who don’t normally use opiates – and never intended to – wind up getting addicted to them.

Dr. Beckerman, who is a Los Angeles based doctor at Huntington Hospital and LA General Medical Center, said that it’s now a common thing for him to see patients who have overdosed on what they thought was Adderall or MDMA from a friend and didn’t know they ingested fentanyl.

“However, the friend got it from somebody else who got it from somebody else and it didn’t come from a pharmacy, he said. “I believe that pill probably has a 60 to 70% chance of having a potentially lethal dosage of fentanyl in it. “

Last year, the number of accidental fentanyl overdose deaths in the region rose from 109 in 2016 to 1,910 in 2022, as stated by the LA County Department of Health.

“The language that I prefer to use is that these are not merely accidental overdoses, these are fentanyl and opiate poisonings,” said Beckerman. These are people who have never used opiates in their life. They are not using fentanyl because they want to take opiates.”

To reduce the opioid crisis, experts recommend that Americans should have more access to the drugs that are regarded as the best for the treatment of opioid use disorder like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. The stigma associated with addiction usually results in the use of these life-saving drugs being limited.

“Until we are able to make the effective treatment and harm reduction accessible better than fentanyl, people are still using fentanyl,” Banta-Green stressed. “And we are currently doing it, but we need to scale it up to a massive amount in the United States.”

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours