Science and Tech


Overdose deaths caused by counterfeit pills growing in the US

In 41.4% of cases where fake pills were found, the only substance responsible for the deaths was fentanyl, the CDC reports.
Fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills.
Posted at 12:36 PM, Sep 07, 2023

The percentage of overdose deaths associated with counterfeit prescription drugs in the United States more than doubled between 2019 and 2021, and in some states it has more than tripled.

Overdose deaths connected to fake pills was 2% of all overdose deaths in 2019 and jumped to nearly 5% in 2021. In some areas out West, like Arizona, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada, it got even worse, going from 4.7% to almost 15%, according to recently released data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says that people who had fake pills in their system when they died were usually younger (57.1% were under 35), more often Hispanic or Latinx (18.7%), and more likely to have a history of misusing prescription drugs (27.0%) when compared to those who died of overdose without traces of fake pills in their systems.

In 41.4% of cases where fake drugs were found, the only substance responsible for the deaths was fentanyl, the CDC states. 

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The CDC's report comes after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public safety warning regarding counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl.

"More than half of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills being trafficked in communities across the country now contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. This marks a dramatic increase – from four out of ten to six out of ten – in the number of pills that can kill," said Administrator Anne Milgram in a press release. "These pills are being mass-produced by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel in Mexico. Never take a pill that wasn’t prescribed directly to you. Never take a pill from a friend. Never take a pill bought on social media. Just one pill is dangerous and one pill can kill."

According to the DEA, the pills are designed to closely resemble genuine prescription medications such as OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax.

The CDC estimates that over 105,000 people died in the U.S. due to overdoses in 2022.

In 2022, the DEA says that it seized more than 58.4 million fake pills laced with fentanyl and more than 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder.

Fentanyl is an extremely addictive man-made opioid that's 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine.