DEA says dangerous fake Rx pills are "flooding the US"

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued a safety alert over what it describes as an "alarming increase" in both the lethality and availability of counterfeit prescription pills.

It says criminal networks – both in the US and internationally – are producing fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine and falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription medicines.

"These counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available, and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl," said the DEA. "Pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal."

The agency said seizures are currently occurring at record rates with more than 9.5m counterfeit pills intercepted so far this year, which is more than the last two years combined.

There has also been a "dramatic rise" in the number of counterfeit pills containing at least 2 mg of fentanyl, which is considered a deadly dose, with 40 per cent of all tablets seized considered potentially lethal.

"The number of DEA-seized counterfeit pills with fentanyl has jumped nearly 430 per cent since 2019, a staggering increase," according to the safety alert. "Additionally, methamphetamine is increasingly being pressed into counterfeit pills."

Some of the most common counterfeit pills are made to look like prescription opioids such as Oxycontin or Percocet (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone), anxiety medicines like Xanax (alprazolam) and stimulants such as Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts), usually prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"Fake prescription pills are widely accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms – making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including teens and young adults," said the DEA.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US, up from 70,630 in 2019. Fentanyl is the primary driver of the increased death toll.

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