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On Sept. 27, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration issued its first Public Safety Alert in six years. The warning alerted Americans to the “sharp increase in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine.”
According to the DEA’s alert, the availability and lethality of these counterfeit pills have significantly increased. Such pills are produced by criminal drug networks and designed to resemble legitimate opioid or stimulant medications, such as Oxycontin, Xanax, and Adderall. Unknown quantities of fentanyl and methamphetamine are known to be pressed into these counterfeit pills, making them dangerous for users.
The synthetic opioid that is most often identified in counterfeit pills is fentanyl, which is the primary cause of the dramatic increase in overdose deaths in the United States.
Fentanyl is a lab-manufactured drug used to treat pain that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. According to the DEA, just 2.2 pounds of fentanyl could potentially cause the deaths of 500,000 people. A lethal dose of fentanyl is just two milligrams, an amount so minuscule that it can fit on a pencil tip.
Although China is the primary source for fentanyl precursors, counterfeit pills most often come to the United States from Mexico after being pressed by Mexican cartels. Kyle W. Williamson, the former head of the DEA’s El Paso division, said, “It’s the worst it’s ever been. The amount of methamphetamine and fentanyl coming in right now is unprecedented.”
In the first nine months of 2021, more than 9.5 million fake pills have been confiscated. This figure is higher than the total number of counterfeit pills that were seized in 2019 and 2020 combined. Moreover, out of all of the pills which are laced with fentanyl, two out of five have been found to contain a potentially lethal dose of the drug.
When users ingest one of these counterfeit pills without knowing what they contain, it is like playing a game of Russian roulette that can lead to death within minutes.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that during a 12-month period ending in April, overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 for the first time. Sixty-four percent of these deaths were caused by synthetic opioids, namely, fentanyl. The majority of these deaths were attributed to 25-55 year olds. Young Americans, however, were also put at risk.
Counterfeit pills can be purchased through social media and other e-commerce platforms, which means that young people with smartphones can easily acquire them without their parents’ knowledge and without realizing the dangers.
According to the most recent data from National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2019, more than one in six adolescents (4.3 million) between the ages of 12 and 17 used illicit drugs. More than 560,000 adolescents misused opioids and, nearly 245,000 adolescents misused prescription pain relievers for the first time in their lives.
When teenagers purchase counterfeit pills, they are often unaware of how much fentanyl the pills contain. The cartels have little concern for the safety of their victims, as they have figured out that the addition of fentanyl to counterfeit pills is a way to ensure their customers remain addicted to illicit drugs.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, in partnership with the Fentanyl Overdose Response Team, is leading the charge to save lives from falling victim to these dangerous drugs.
Education is a key component of Smittcamp’s strategy. As she said in the documentary, “Killer High,” “There is such a high volume of this substance that we cannot police or prosecute our way out of this crisis—we have to educate people. The more people who know how lethal this drug is, the more lives we can save.”
We must do more at the national level to educate Americans about the devastating effects of fentanyl and methamphetamine. Unless we stop the flow of these deadly drugs into the United States and provide law enforcement and first responders with the necessary tools and resources to combat this crisis, young lives will continue to be tragically lost.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.