KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a Public Safety Alert warning Americans of the alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine.
This is the first such alert from the DEA in six years, which seeks to raise public awareness of a significant nationwide surge in counterfeit pills flooding the streets that are mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs, deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, and are killing unsuspecting buyers at an unprecedented rate.
On Oct. 7, the Knoxville Police Department also warned people about counterfeit pills containing fentanyl. They said the only safe medications ones prescribed by medical professionals and received from a licensed pharmacist.
So far in 2021, they said that the number of counterfeit pills with fentanyl seized by the DEA jumped nearly 430% since 2019. They said most pills contain at least 2mg of fentanyl — a deadly dose.
“We know with a lot of the overdoses that we see, especially right here in our community, that many of them deal with fentanyl,” said Deborah Crouse from Knoxville’s Metro Drug Coalition.
The number of overdoses continues to rise, and the rise of meth and fentanyl-laced pills in Tennessee has been a serious problem as organizations work to curb the overdose epidemic.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in recent years has been sounding the alarm on the rise in meth submissions to its labs -- saying it and fentanyl have been contributing to a large amount of overdose deaths across the state.
The DEA said in 2021 the U.S. saw a record amount of overdoses as a result of fake medications laced with fentanyl and meth.
“It doesn't surprise me at all. Because I mean, if you look at the overdose numbers for 2020, they skyrocketed that 30% increase over 2019,” said Steve Wildsmith from Cornerstone of Recovery.
So far this year, the DEA seized counterfeit drugs in every state totaling over 9 million pills.
Wildsmith said the rise may also be exacerbated by the pandemic.
"Where there is a demand, there's going to be a supply. And so more people are looking for drugs, and more people want to get high to escape whatever is going on out in the world,” said Wildsmith.
Information from the DEA shows counterfeit pills are illegally manufactured by criminal drug networks and are made to look like real prescription meds that are illegally sold on the streets.
Crouse said education is key in preventing these overdoses and deaths.
“We want to make sure that individuals are equipped with the proper knowledge so they know not to use these substances... and to hopefully stop that generation cycle,” she said.
The alert does not apply to legitimate pharmaceutical medications prescribed by medical professionals and dispensed by licensed pharmacists, officials said.
According to a press release, the legitimate prescription supply chain is not impacted. Anyone filling a prescription at a licensed pharmacy can be confident that the medications they receive are safe when taken as directed by a medical professional.