Federal officials have sharply escalated their battle with opioid painkiller abuse and overdoses, issuing an urgent public warning that street drugs of many different varieties may be tainted with tiny but lethal doses of the synthetic painkiller fentanyl.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department also provided stark evidence of the risks involved, announcing a bust involving 810 people and the seizure of “8,843 pounds of methamphetamine, 1,440 pounds of cocaine and 158 weapons,” CBS News reported. Officials asserted that the seizure contained enough illicit materials to “kill more than 700,000 people and to potentially make tens of millions more lethal pills.”
The DEA said it has recorded a scary spike in cases involving pills sold in illicit fashion, fake medications of many different kinds, that are tainted with fentanyl, which pushers say provides a powerful high but which doctors and law enforcement warns can kill in minute doses:
“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. Criminal drug networks are selling these pills through social media, e-commerce, the dark web, and existing distribution networks. As a result, these fake pills are widely available. The Department of Justice 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. 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% since 2019.”
The opioid crisis — of which the phony fentanyl-laced pills are just the latest part — has raged for years now, only worsening during the coronavirus pandemic, as the Washington Post reported:
“The United States saw a record number of drug overdose deaths last year — more than 93,000, an increase of almost 30% from 2019 …The United States has been grappling with a worsening drug epidemic since 1999, fueled primarily by an explosion of opioid use. At first, that drug abuse centered around prescription pain pills, such as Oxycodone, Vicodin, or Percocet. In recent years, the death toll has risen sharply, fueled in large part by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is relatively cheap to manufacture and distribute. Last year, drug overdoses killed more than twice as many Americans as car crashes. Many drug overdoses are the result of ingesting more than one drug, but experts say fentanyl is often involved.”
Criticism of social media channels, notably TikTok, SnapChat, and Instagram, has been rising and is sharp in the latest federal campaign against fake pills, the newspaper reported. The sites have been warned that they provide a deadly path for drug dealing and that young people with little involvement with substance abuse have been led astray and into buying fake pills by social media messaging.
The sites say they have tried to clean up the problem. But they clearly are not acting with the urgency that, for example, the DEA has tried to communicate about fentanyl-tainted pills, including with a major “One pill can kill” public awareness campaign (see logo above). The agency says it has not issued a comparable national alert in a half dozen years, and it has senior leaders in its offices across the county on extended segments on local news stations coast to coast, working, too, with victim advocacy groups to ensure reporters bring out painful stories by surviving family members.
Much more needs to be done still. In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them by dangerous drugs.
The opioid crisis, which we now must tackle in the most aggressive fashion possible, took time to develop, fostered by Big Pharma, doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, and others in health care. The wrongdoers must be held accountable, and the tens of millions who have been injured must find care — and justice from the injuries they and their loved ones suffer.
Please talk to anyone with whom you have a strong relationship and may be vulnerable to substance abuse, whether due to their mental health challenges, chronic issues with pain, or propensity to youthful risk-taking. Let them know they can imperil their health, legal standing, and their lives with even one of the millions of fake pills circulating. They may think their street deal is a one-time, one-off, and innocuous transaction. It might not be. We have much work to do put down the opioid crisis, and here’s hoping that authorities’ crackdown on the fake pill menace, pronto