As our nation remains in the midst of an opioid crisis, another life-threatening trend has emerged: the selling and the use of fake medication. These pills, which are often sold online, look like legitimate prescription meds such as oxycodone, xanax, or Adderall. In fact, people buy them believing that they are similar to the pills you would get from the doctor. But many of these fake pills actually contain different ingredients and are laced with dangerous – and sometimes deadly – amounts of the synthetic opioid fentanyl or methamphetamine.  

Fentanyl is also being found more frequently in other illicit substances that are being purchased such as cocaine and other stimulants. Read the DEA’s Fentanyl Fact Sheet to learn more about Fentanyl.

Quick Facts:

  • According to DEA lab testing of seized drugs: 4 out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.
  • DEA seized more than 20.4 million fake pills in 2021 and 15,000 pounds of fentanyl.
  • Fake prescription pills are easily accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms.

How can I tell if drugs are fake?

A lot of counterfeit pills are made to appear legitimate. So, there really isn’t a clear way to tell if a pill is fake just by looking at it.  Pills distributed by a pharmacy and prescribed by your physician are safest and not those purchased third hand or online without a prescription.

What are counterfeit pills/drugs?
Counterfeit pills are fake medications that have different ingredients than the actual medication. They may contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient, or have the right ingredient but in an incorrect quantity. Counterfeit pills may contain lethal amounts of fentanyl or methamphetamine and are extremely dangerous because they often appear identical to legitimate prescription pills, and the user is likely unaware of how lethal they can be.

How are they used?
Counterfeit pills are especially dangerous because people think they are purchasing legitimate prescription medications. However, these fake pills often contain lethal amounts of illicit drugs. Distributors in the United States are selling counterfeit pills on social media, appealing to a younger audience that use these apps. Minors and young adults experimenting, as well as regular substance users, believe they are buying authentic oxycodone, Adderall, Xanax, or other medicines, but are unwittingly purchasing counterfeit pills that contain lethal amounts of drugs, usually fentanyl and methamphetamine. Fentanyl is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine, and 50 times more potent than heroin as a painkiller. Twenty-six percent of tablets tested in a DEA laboratory contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.

What is their effect on the body?
Counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl can be deadly. A lethal dose of fentanyl is about two milligrams, equivalent in size to a few grains of salt. Fentanyl, similar to other commonly used opioid analgesics (e.g., morphine), produces effects such as relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, pupillary constriction, and respiratory depression. Synthetic opioids, such as illicit fentanyl, remain the primary driver of the increase in overdose deaths, accounting for 80 percent of all deaths involving an opioid. Counterfeit pills containing methamphetamine are highly addictive and act on the central nervous system. Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, rapid breathing and heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and hyperthermia (overheating).

What are the overdose effects?
Fentanyl overdose may result in stupor, changes in pupillary size, cold and clammy skin,
cyanosis, coma, and respiratory failure leading to death. The presence of the triad of
symptoms such as coma, pinpoint pupils, and respiratory depression are strongly
suggestive of opioid poisoning. Methamphetamine overdose may result in death from stroke, heart attack, or multiple organ problems caused by overheating.

The above is copied from the DEA’s Facts about counterfeit pills

One Pill Can Kill

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The #onepillcankill social media campaign is from the DEA.