BOISE — Federal prosecutors this week warned Idaho residents about the increasing public health risks posed by counterfeit prescription opioids.
“These counterfeit pills have led to increased overdoses and deaths across the country but particularly here in the Western region of the United States where there was a 67 percent increase in such death rates from 2018 to 2019,” the Idaho U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a press release.
There is no concern of counterfeit pills entering the legitimate prescription supply chain, the release said, but counterfeit pills, generally manufactured in clandestine labs using fentanyl as the active ingredient, are made to look like legitimate prescription opioids, commonly prescribed to alleviate pain or anxiety.
“In other words, there is no way to tell whether a pill purchased illicitly on the internet or the street is actually Oxycodone or a more powerful drug,” Idaho’s acting U.S. attorney, Rafael M. Gonzalez Jr., said in the release.
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug so strong that a dosage of just 2 milligrams, equivalent in size to a few grains of salt, can be lethal, Gonzalez said. By comparison, a lethal dose of heroin is roughly 30 milligrams.
Counterfeit pills commonly sold on the street are oxycodone, Xanax, Percocet or similar narcotics, the release said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration in Idaho saw a gradual increase in the number of drug-related overdoses and deaths due to the misuse and abuse of prescription opiates and increased availability of heroin between 2017 and 2019.
“Alarmingly, in the last six months, the availability and seizure of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills has exploded in the region,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino said in the release. “… Law enforcement and public health officials have also noted a sharp increase in overdoses and deaths from fentanyl.”
Nationwide, 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred 2019, with than 70% involving an opioid. Synthetic opioids caused more overdose deaths in 2019 than any other opioid, accounting for approximately 73% of all opioid-involved deaths.
In 2019, 27% of all tablets seized nationwide contained potentially lethal doses of fentanyl, the DEA said.
Unless prescription drugs are obtained from an authorized medical provider or pharmacy, the public should not consumer or even handle these pills, the release said.
“Frankly, if it weren’t for the outstanding work of first responders administering naloxone (an opioid antagonist that rapidly reverses opioid overdose) and saving lives of those who have overdosed, the number of deaths would be much, much higher,” Gonzalez said.