Over the past four years, the number of counterfeit fentanyl-containing pills seized by US law enforcement has jumped 4,850%, according to a new study, highlighting how an alarming increase in the deadly drug puts people at increased risk of accidental overdose. .
The study by a consortium of academic researchers, led by New York University, was published on Thursday. Using real-time analysis of federal data, the first of its kind, it found that more than 2 million fake pills were seized by authorities in the last quarter of 2021 alone, up from 42,000 in the last quarter of 2021. first quarter of 2018. Researchers also found that the number of individual seizures involving fentanyl pills increased by 834%.
The authors say this reflects the huge supply of these pills, which criminal drug rings manufacture to look like legitimate pharmaceutical tablets such as Percocet, Xanax and Adderall, imported into the United States and sold on the streets.
“These look like prescription pills — that’s the scary thing,” said the study’s lead author, Joseph Palamar, a professor of population health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. He said he is concerned that people who take recreational drugs are being hit with lethal doses of fentanyl-tainted drugs. “A pill containing fentanyl can literally kill you.”
The study comes at a time when the number of overdose deaths in the United States has exploded to more than 100,000 a year due to huge amounts of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids saturating the country’s drug supply. Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and, as Palamar notes, a small packet of the substance can contain enough drug to kill hundreds of people.
In a two-month period in 2021, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency announced that it had arrested 810 drug traffickers across the United States and seized enough fentanyl-filled pills to kill more than 700 000 Americans.
Researchers said the number of drug seizures reflects the huge amount of fentanyl on the streets and warned of the dangers it can pose to unwitting members of the public, especially young people who may unwittingly buying fentanyl contaminated pills online or from friends. .
“The pills can mask the risk,” said study co-author Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, a professor specializing in addiction medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “A pill can be taken by a student who is trying to stay up all night studying for an exam and doesn’t know if his boyfriend is selling him real adderall or fake adderall. A pill can be taken by a kid who goes to a club and thinks he’ll have more fun if he takes the party drug MDMA – and instead he takes fentanyl.
Ciccarone and Palamar said people should avoid any pill that is not prescribed by their own doctor – including drugs given to them by friends or bought on social media or on the street. At the very least, illicit drug users should consider testing them with fentanyl test strips, available at many health services and needle exchange groups, they said.
“The street pill is now much more dangerous than it was for previous generations,” Cicarrone said. “This is the problem.”
The study’s innovative methodology analyzed real-time federal data on drugs seized by law enforcement on streets and at border crossings across the country, in what the researchers hope could become a system of early warning to spot new drug dangers on the market and even, from overdose deaths.
“An increase in illicit fentanyl-containing pills signals a new, increasingly dangerous time in the United States,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study. “The pills are often taken or snorted by people who are more naive about drug use and have a lower tolerance. When a pill is contaminated with fentanyl, as is often the case now, poisoning can easily occur.
Young people have been particularly affected by recent drug overdose deaths. Earlier Guardian analysis showed young people under 24 had the fastest rise in drug-related deaths with 7,337 young people dying in 2020 alone.
In California, where fentanyl deaths were rare just five years ago, a young person under the age of 24 now dies every 12 hours, according to a Guardian analysis of state data through June 2021, i.e. an increase of 1,000% compared to 2018.
Some of the most tragic cases involve teenagers who experiment with pills obtained from social media or from friends that they think are pharmaceutical-grade painkillers or anti-anxiety drugs, but turn out to be lethal doses of fentanyl.
“These children are cheated to death,” said Jaime Puerta, who organized the nonprofit Victims of Illegal Drugs to fight fentanyl deaths, after losing his own 16-year-old son to a counterfeit fentanyl pill.
Puerta found his unconscious son Daniel Puerta-Johnson in his bedroom in 2020, after the teenager took what he thought was an Oxcontin pill he had bought on social media. The pill turned out to be fentanyl and left him brain dead, forcing the family to make the heartbreaking decision to take him off life support.
“Not enough is being done,” said Puerta, who has since spoken to hundreds of other parents who have lost young people in similar drug-related deaths. “I would like people to see it for what it is. This is a national security crisis.
“People think it can’t happen to them because they don’t have drug addicts in their family,” said Puerta, who wants to see more high school programs educating teens about the dangers. “But it’s on every family’s doorstep.”