The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public safety alert Monday warning Americans of an alarming increase in fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine that are often sold on social media and the web.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram told The Washington Post that counterfeit drugs are contributing to an “overdose crisis” in the U.S. Last year, overdose deaths rose nearly 30 percent — from 70,630 in 2019 to more than 93,000 last year, according to provisional 2020 data released by the CDC. That marks the largest number of drug-related deaths ever recorded during a year in the United States.
“We decided to [issue the alert] because the amounts are staggering,” Milgram told the Post. “We are in the midst, in my view, of an overdose crisis, and the counterfeit pills are driving so much of it.”
The alert states that the most common counterfeit pills are made to resemble prescription opioids like Oxycontin, Vicodin and Xanax or stimulants such as Adderall, but many actually contain possibly lethal doses of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine.
“These counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available, and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl,” the agency said in the alert. “Pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal.”
The agency reported that more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been seized so far this year. That’s more than double the amount seized in the two previous years. The DEA said it is also seeing a sharp increase in the number of fentanyl-laced pills it has seized, jumping by almost 430 percent since 2019. Currently, according to DEA lab testing, two out of every five pills found containing fentanyl had enough to be a potentially lethal dose, the alert said.
Teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable, according to the agency, because counterfeiters are selling pills on social media platforms like TikTok and Snapchat as well as e-commerce websites.
“The drug dealer isn’t just standing on a street corner anymore,” Milgram told the Post. “It’s sitting in a pocket on your phone.”
The crisis has gotten so bad, parents of teens who overdosed on drugs purchased through Snapchat organized a protest at the platform’s headquarters and in nearly 30 other cities earlier this summer, organized by the Association of People Against Lethal Drugs. Snapchat said, in part, in a statement responding to the protests that they “strictly prohibit drug-related activity on our platform, aggressively enforce against these violations, and support law enforcement in their investigations.”
But Milgram told TODAY that social media platforms need to do more to combat drug sales. “Social media companies know that their platforms are being used for this. And they need to understand that Americans are dying… It’s happening every single day,” she said.