DEA: 'Significant increase' of counterfeit pills in Minnesota this year

The pills could contain dangerous amounts of fentanyl, which is often to blame in fatal overdoses.
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There's been a "significant increase" in counterfeit pills in Minnesota, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns. 

So far this year, DEA officials have recovered 46,000 counterfeit pills in Minnesota's illegal drug market – nearly four times the amount seized in 2019. 

The problem with these fake pills is that they're causing a "significant number" of fatal overdoses because they look just like painkillers or anxiety meds you'd get from the pharmacy with a prescription, but often contain fentanyl, an opioid 100 times more potent than morphine, the DEA says.

“Please educate your high school and college-age kids on the extreme dangers of counterfeit medications,” Omaha Division Special Agent in Charge Richard Salter Jr., said in a statement. “Too often, the overdose victims are young and are not prior drug abusers. They went to a party and someone offered them a pill to relax them – then they died. Too many American parents have had to bury their children as a result of drug overdose.” 

The pills that are flooding the illegal drug market in Minnesota are mostly making there way here from Mexico, while others are shipped through the mail, the DEA says. Recently, investigators in Minneapolis seized 4,000 pills that were sent through the mail.

“There is no quality control in these counterfeit pills,” Salter said. “Drug trafficking organizations do not employ scientists or use professional laboratories to create these deadly pills and therefore they cannot create the safe chemical mixtures that their legitimate pharmaceutical counterparts do. A lethal dosage of fentanyl is 2 milligrams, equivalent in size to a few grains of salt, as compared to a lethal dose of heroin at 30 milligrams.

"Each time someone takes a counterfeit pain pill, they are playing Russian roulette with their life," Salter added.

The most common counterfeit pills found in Minnesota is a substitute for oxycodone, known as M30's for its markings, the DEA says. These pills were tied to a few fatal overdoses in May, which led to a statewide warning about fentanyl-laced pills

The fake pills are often sold on the street by drug dealers or on the dark web, the DEA says. The price of a single counterfeit pill can be as high as $30 or $1 per milligram in Minnesota, while investigators have seen prices as high as $100 a pill on Native Reservations.

There is no concern of counterfeit pills in the prescription supply chain.

“If a doctor didn’t prescribe it, or if the pill isn’t coming from a pharmacy, it’s very likely counterfeit,” Salter said. “Mexican cartels are purchasing fentanyl and its analogs and setting up huge operations to manufacture these dangerous products.”

In 2019, 27% of counterfeit pills seized in the U.S. contained potentially lethal doses of fentanyl.

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