One pill can kill.
That’s the message from the Drug Enforcement Administration this morning, announcing a rare public safety alert – the first since 2015 – on the alarming amount of counterfeit pills containing the deadly fentanyl (a synthetic opioid) in the United States.
“They’re marketed as prescription drugs, sold online or on social media, but are actually fake, often containing the potent and deadly fentanyl … Sometimes methamphetamine,” said Anne Milgram, administrator of the DEA. Popular apps like Snapchat and TikTok are helping connect teens and young adults with drug dealers, she added, noting that social media companies are not doing enough to stop this problem.
âSocial media companies know their platforms are used for this. And they need – they need to understand that Americans are dyingâ¦ It happens every day,â Milgram said, calling the problem a ânational crisisâ.
So far this year, the agency and its law enforcement partners have seized 9.5 million of these fake pills, with fake tablets containing fentanyl accounting for the majority of that number – and the potentially fatal percentage n ‘has never been higher, Milgram said. Two out of five fentanyl pills contain lethal doses.
âIt’s Russian roulette, but it’s even more dangerous in a way. In Russian Roulette, people know they are circulating a loaded gun. Here you are talking about a lot of people who think they are actually buying oxycodone or buying Percocet or buying Vicodinâ¦ a pain reliever, âMilgram said TODAY.
âThey think they are buying a prescription drug bought in an illegal market. And they are not. They buy fentanyl or methamphetamine. And fentanyl pills can kill people.
It takes a tiny amount of fentanyl to cause death – the equivalent of two or three grains of salt, she noted. More than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States last year in what Milgram called a national crisis and emergency.
With this new campaign, the DEA no longer talks about drugs prescribed by your doctor and delivered by your pharmacy.
Rather, it targets counterfeit pills that criminals market to the American public as real prescription pills and sell online, Milgram noted. They intentionally make the fake pills look like the real ones – with the same size and color.
Criminal drug networks are exploiting the fact that the United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic and that there is an increased demand for prescription pain relievers and other drugs.
Americans of all ages, races and genders in all parts of the United States are affected. These “predatory criminal organizations” use fentanyl because it is cheap, easy to transport, and “incredibly addictive and incredibly potent,” Milgram explained. It is 80-100 times stronger than morphine.
Many hip hop songs normalize opioids and other drugs, a fact that is not taken into account in public health approaches to the opioid epidemic, says Chaseedaw Giles, reporter at Kaiser Health News. At the same time, many people are unaware of side effects such as withdrawal, which could be addressed with public health messages that are culturally sensitive and incorporate it.
The chemicals needed to make fentanyl come mainly from China and then ship to Mexico where it is mass produced in labs, Milgram said. The drug dealers who create the fake pills are not chemists, so they often mix too much fentanyl in batches of pills, creating lethal doses.
Awareness is essential, especially for parents who need to know that a drug dealer may be hiding on their children’s phones. It is also important that they talk to their children about the dangers of fentanyl.
âWe all need to understand that these pills are lethal,â Milgram said. âThe only pill an American should take is a pill that has been prescribed by their doctor and filled in their legitimate pharmacy. They shouldn’t take a pill from family, friends.
For more resources and information on the campaign, visit the US Drug Enforcement Administration website.
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from today: