DEA warns of deadly fake Rx drugs from Mexican cartels

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has waned that more than a quarter of prescription drug tablets seized in the first quarter of this year contained dangerous doses of fentanyl.

It also says that Mexican drug cartels are manufacturing mass quantities of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is lethal even in minute doses – for distribution throughout North America.

A lethal dose of fentanyl is estimated to be about just 2mg, but can vary based on an individual’s body size, tolerance, amount of previous usage and other factors, according to the DEA.

US deaths from synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, rose more than 10-fold over five years from 3,000 in 2013 to 30,000 in 2018, according to a study published in late-August by the non-profit Rand Corporation.

The drug is now though to be involved in twice as many deaths as heroin, with fatalities concentrated in Appalachia, the mid-Atlantic and New England.

At the time it was published, lead author Bryce Pardo said “the spread of synthetic opioids is largely driven by suppliers' decisions, not by user demand,” adding: “most people who use opioids are not asking for fentanyl and would prefer to avoid exposure.”

“Drug trafficking organizations are now sending counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in bulk to the US for distribution,” said DEA acting administrator Uttam Dhillon.

“Counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl and fentanyl-laced heroin are responsible for thousands of opioid-related deaths in the US each year.”

The Rand study also suggests that the crisis is also being driven by China's pharmaceutical and chemical industries, which are “inadequately regulated” and so are able to advertise and ship synthetic opioids anywhere in the world.

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