WASHINGTON (SBG) - Fake prescription drugs laced with fentanyl are flooding the drug market and driving up the number of overdoses. Counterfeit pill dealers are buying pill pressure machines for $2,000 and producing hundreds of pills that could be lethal. On the outside, they look like Oxycontin or Xanax. But inside, it could be mixed with fentanyl or another deadly drug.
Pharmacists say that only a tiny amount of fentanyl - the size of a few small grains of sand - can kill you.
“We hear all the time, I took something and I was fine... but it killed my best friend,” said Kara Sepulveda.
Sepulveda is the project coordinator of the Overdose Data to Action Grant in Connecticut. She says overdose deaths increased by over 14% from 2019 to 2020, a spike driven by counterfeit pills.
"People order over the internet now and that is the scary part, you can get these pills delivered to your door like any other Amazon package,” said Sepulveda.
This month in Los Angeles, a federal grand jury charged a California man accused of selling counterfeit oxy pills laced with fentanyl, causing a fatal overdose. In April, Oregon state health officials held a virtual meeting warning about the rise in counterfeit pill deaths happening across the Portland metro region.
“Our region appears to be awash, unfortunately, in cheap fake pills that look like they came from a pharmacy but are knockoffs,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, health officer for the Tri-County Region.
Federal investigators say one machine can produce at least 5,000 pills an hour, costing pennies to produce just one $20 pill. Thad Franz from Cedarville University says counterfeit drug production is about a third of the international drug supply.
“Most are coming from the eastern world and parts of China and India, or maybe even countries like Mexico,” said Franz.
And now a new drug danger is emerging.
“There is a substance called xylazine that is an animal tranquilizer that is also being mixed into the drug supply,” said Sepulveda.