The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has seized more than 9.5 million deadly fake pills so far in 2021, according to a September public safety alert. These pills are manufactured by criminal networks and sold illegally on the black market, often through social media and online stores. These fake pills are made to look like prescription opioids, such as Oxycontin® or Vicodin®; or stimulants, like Adderall®. However, these counterfeits often secretly contain powerful drugs like fentanyl or methamphetamine.

One authentic and one counterfeit 30mg oxycodone pill sit next to each other.

In this picture, there appear to be two 30mg oxycodone pills. But one of the pills is a fake, and could easily contain fentanyl instead of effective medicine. Without a lab test, it would be nearly impossible to tell which of these pills is safe and which might kill you. One of these pills is clearly a different color than the other, but this is just an example. Medicine comes with all different sizes, colors, shapes, and imprints. Some fake pills might look exactly like the real thing, yet they may contain fentanyl without the buyer knowing.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid, about 100 times stronger than morphine. Because fentanyl is so potent, a dose of only 2mg is considered deadly. A deadly dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a number 2 pencil, as shown in this picture.

The DEA recently reported that the number of fake pills with fentanyl they have seized has increased by nearly 430% since 2019. Of those fake pills containing fentanyl, DEA lab testing showed that 2 out of every 5 pills contained a deadly dose of fentanyl (Source: DEA Fact Sheet Sept 2021: www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/DEA_Fact_Sheet-Counterfeit_Pills.pdf).

A lethal dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.

If you are not sure where a pill came from, do not rely on your eyes to tell if it is authentic and safe. The only way to be sure a pill is legitimate is if it was obtained from a licensed medical professional. Whether you fill your prescriptions at a physical or online pharmacy, you can ensure your medicine is safe by checking their license from the state Board of Pharmacy. You can find out more about the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, and look up pharmacist licenses, by visiting www.dhp.virginia.gov/pharmacy/.

RAYSAC sponsors several permanent drug drop boxes that can be found all across the Roanoke Valley. If you want to get rid of any drugs, whether they came from a safe, licensed source or not, you can find the nearest permanent drop box at www.takethemback.org.

For more information about counterfeit pills, including the DEA public safety alert, fact sheet, and images mentioned here, visit www.dea.gov/onepill.

To learn more about how the FDA ensures the safety of the country’s drug supply chain, visit www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/drug-supply-chain-integrity.

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