DEA warns of 'alarming' increase in fake pills containing fentanyl

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Sept. 28 (UPI) -- In its first public safety alert in more than half a decade, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warned Americans about the "alarming" increase in the availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine on the black market.

In its alert issued on Monday, the DEA said law enforcement have seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills in every state so far this year amid a "surge" in such drugs manufactured by international and domestic criminal networks flooding the United States.

The increase in the seizure of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl has increased 430% since 2019, it said.

"These counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl," the DEA said, warning Americans that buying medicine outside of a licensed pharmacy is illegal.

It said officials have also reported a "dramatic rise" in the number of these pills containing a lethal dose of at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl, with two out of every five counterfeit pills confiscated containing this dosage.

Authorities warned the criminal networks have disguised the pills as prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam as well as stimulates such as amphetamines, to exploit the ongoing opioid crisis and prescription drug misuse affecting the country.

"The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine," Anne Milgram, the DEA administrator, said in a statement. "Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before."

The DEA, she said, is focusing its resources toward apprehending violent drug traffickers "causing the greatest harm."

The vast majority of the counterfeit pills being brought into the United States are produced in Mexico while China is supplying chemicals for the manufacturing of fentanyl, the DEA said.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 93,000 people died of a drug overdose last year with fentanyl being the primary drug of concern.

"Today, we are alerting the public to this danger so that people have the information they need to protect themselves and their children," Milgram said.

The warning was issued to coincide with the DEA's launch of its One Pill Can Kill Public Awareness Campaign, aimed at educating the public of the dangers of counterfeit pills.

The DEA was quick to add that the alert does not apply to pills dispensed by legitimate pharmacies with a prescription from a medical professional.

The alert was the DEA's first in six years with its last being issued in March of 2015 to warn the public about fentanyl being laced with heroin.

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