Counterfeit (fake) pills containing deadly amounts of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, are being seized in unprecedented quantities by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in every U.S. state, including South Dakota. In 2021, the South Dakota Department of Health reported 29 fentanyl-related deaths, which is 28% of all drug-related deaths for the year.
There are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF). Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain or advanced-stage cancer. IMF, known for its heroin-like effect, is often added to other drugs because of its extreme potency, which makes drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous. A dose of IMF small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil is considered a lethal dose.
IMF can be found in liquid or powdered form. Liquid IMF can be found in nasal sprays, eye drops, or dropped onto paper to look like small candies. Powdered IMF is commonly mixed with drugs like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, and is also pressed into counterfeit pills and made to look like real prescription opioid medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin).
According to a report by the DEA, “Mexico and China are the primary source countries for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the United States.” Fentanyl seizures at the southern border with Mexico increased by more than 200% in 2022, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Buying drugs online, through payment apps, and social media platforms is a popular new way for drug dealers to target kids. Social media posts are often accompanied by known code words and emojis that are used to market and sell illicit and deadly drugs. These code words and emojis are designed to avoid detection by law enforcement and the preset algorithms used by social media platforms.
The U.S. DEA Laboratory has found that, of the counterfeit pills analyzed in 2022, 6 out of 10 contained at least two milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a lethal dose. If you come across anything that looks suspicious, do not touch it and contact law enforcement immediately. Never take a pill that was not prescribed directly to you, never take a pill from a friend, and never take a pill bought on social media.
In 2018, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health joined efforts to raise awareness through https://www.avoidopioidsd.com/. South Dakotans can learn important information about opioid misuse and abuse and stay current on opioid related issues, including the emerging trend of fentanyl-laced counterfeit drugs. People can also learn how to take preventive action within their own homes and communities and where to find help for those struggling with addiction.