By Brian Mann and Scott Neuman, from NPR All Things Considered, updated September 27, 2021.
A patch containing the active ingredient fentanyl is shown by a pharmacist. The painkiller fentanyl, which can be up to 100 times stronger than heroin, is a growing cause of overdose deaths in the U.S., according to the DEA.
In its first public safety alert in six years, the Drug Enforcement Administration is warning about a dramatic increase in fake prescription drugs being sold on the black market containing a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.
The DEA said the counterfeit pills — made to look like real opioid medications such as oxycodone, Percocet or Adderall — are sold on the street by dealers or online, including through social media platforms.
“If you have a smartphone and you’re sitting on the sofa at home … your drug dealer is right there in your hands,” DEA spokesperson Anne Edgecomb said in an interview with NPR.
The agency said it has seized more than 9.5 million fake pills so far this year, more than the last two years combined. It said its lab has found that two out of every five fake pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose of the drug.
“The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said. “Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before.”
The last time the agency issued such a public safety alert was in 2015 when it warned of a sharp increase on the street of fentanyl-laced heroin.
The latest warning comes amid an ongoing epidemic of drug overdoses in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 93,000 Americans died from a drug overdose last year — more than ever before.
“Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid most commonly found in counterfeit pills, is the primary driver of this alarming increase in overdose deaths,” the DEA said.
This alert doesn’t only apply to fake opioid medications. DEA officials said a knockoff version of the stimulant Adderall is being sold on the black market laced with methamphetamines.
The alert issued Monday doesn’t apply to legally prescribed and dispensed legitimate pharmaceutical medications, the DEA said.