By Brandon Moseley

On Thursday, Nov. 30, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Justice Department announced that the DEA has seized 1.8 million fake pills and arrested 810 people nationwide, in a two-month effort to attempt to dismantle drug distribution networks flooding the U.S. with deadly fentanyl-laced fake pills.

At Thursday’s press conference, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram announced a significant law enforcement effort to attempt to protect American communities from the flood of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced pills across the U.S.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is found in most of the fake pills that were seized. It is also the primary driver of the recent increase in U.S. overdose deaths.

“Illicit fentanyl was responsible for nearly three-quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020,” said Deputy Attorney General Monaco. “The pervasiveness of these illicit drugs, and the fatal overdoses that too often result, is a problem that cuts across America from small towns to big cities and everything in between. One pill can kill. The department will continue to use all of the resources at its disposal to save lives, complementing strong enforcement efforts with public awareness and outreach campaigns, as well.”

“During the past eight weeks, DEA has targeted the criminal drug networks flooding the U.S. with deadly, fentanyl-laced fake pills,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “DEA remains steadfast in its commitment reduce drug-related violence and overdose deaths by dismantling the violent, criminal drug distribution networks across the United States. The fentanyl-laced fake pills seized by DEA could potentially kill more than 700,000 Americans. I urge the American public today to talk to their loved ones about the threats and dangers of fake pills and the simple fact that one pill can kill.”

According to the DOJ, Mexican criminal drug networks are mass-producing illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-laced fake pills using chemicals sourced largely from China, and are distributing these pills through U.S. criminal networks. These fake pills are designed to appear nearly identical to legitimate prescriptions such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Xanax, and other medicines.

Investigators said criminal drug networks are then selling the pills through social media, e-commerce, the dark web, and existing distribution networks. As a result, fake pills are widely available.

The U.S. Department of Justice said that it will continue to collaborate closely with its international partners, within Mexico and around the world, to aggressively investigate and prosecute the members of these drug networks.

According to the DOJ, these fake pills are more lethal than ever. DEA laboratory testing reveals that today, four out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose. Moreover, the number of fake pills containing fentanyl has jumped nearly 430 percent since 2019.

On August 3, 2021, DEA launched the nationwide law enforcement effort to address the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fentanyl-laced fake pills. Fentanyl—in powder and pill form—is a significant U.S. public health threat that is killing tens of thousands of Americans.

The amount of deadly fentanyl-laced fake pills seized by DEA since August 3rd is enough to kill more than 700,000 Americans. These recent seizures add to the more than 9.5 million potentially deadly fake pills that DEA has seized in the past year. This is more than in the last two years combined.

During the two-month law enforcement surge targeting fake pills, the DEA also seized 712 kilograms (1,570 pounds) of fentanyl powder. DEA officers also seized 158 weapons and many of the enforcement actions are tied to violence and overdose deaths. The DEA also seized 4,011 kilograms (8,843 pounds) of methamphetamine and 653 kilograms (1,440 pounds) of cocaine.

On Monday, September 27, 2021, the DEA issued a public safety warning to the American public about the increasing availability of fake pills that are more deadly than ever before, and that are easy to purchase, widely available, and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl.

The DEA has also launched the One Pill Can Kill campaign to inform the American public of the dangers of fake prescription pills. The only safe medications are ones prescribed by a trusted medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. Any pills that do not meet this standard are unsafe and potentially deadly.

944 Alabamians died from drug overdoses in 2020, a 31 percent increase from 2019 when 744 Alabamians died from drug overdoses. The increasing proliferation of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced fake pills are contributing to the explosion in drug overdose deaths that we have experienced over the last decade.

The DEA reminds citizens to not take any medication purchased from a drug dealer or given by a “friend” with a source and if someone is marketing a prescription drug with no prescription required and at prices far lower than a pharmacy there is a strong likelihood that it is not what the label claims it is.