According to the DEA, generally, in a lot of cases, cartels produced the pills in Mexico and then distributed them in the United States but now say they are finding a concerning trend where individuals are producing these dangerous drugs from local home laboratories.
“We’re finding now where people are actually setting up labs and we found several of them here in Cleveland where they’re producing these fentanyl pills right in their homes,” Tom Gergye, DEA assistant special agent in charge, said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. In most adults, the DEA notes, a 2-3 milligram dose is fatal. Pharmacies also make the powerful drug for legal use by prescription.
The U.S. DEA issued a public safety warning last month after finding a sharp increase in law enforcement confiscating fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills.
According to DEA administrator Anne Milgram, six out of ten pills analyzed at the DEA laboratory contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report last year, saying that for the first time in modern history, over 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in a year. Fentanyl and other synthetic drugs caused approximately two-thirds of those deaths.
The Ohio Department of Health states that fentanyl was involved in 81 percent of overdose deaths in 2020, often in combination with other drugs. That percentage increased from 76 percent in 2019, 73 percent in 2018, and 71 percent in 2017.
The DEA previously reported about fentanyl pills being disguised as painkillers and other pharmaceutical drugs as well as the dangers of Rainbow fentanyl, which comes in a variety of bright colors and shapes to appeal to kids and young adults. But now, Gergyne says, more pill presses are turning up on search warrants along with the illegal ingredients needed to produce the pills.
“They’re guesstimating it, they’re mixing it up and they’re selling it,” Gergyne said.
“Seizure of this press helps reduce the supply of these dangerous pills,” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said.
Between May 23rd and September 8th, DEA officials seized 65 kilograms of fentanyl powder and 87,000 fentanyl-laced pills in Northern Ohio enough fentanyl to provide 4.7 million deadly dosages.
While federal and local law enforcement agencies continue to work to confiscate the illegal pills and presses, the DEA said they are continuing to educate the public about the dangers of fake prescription pills with the One Pill Can Kill campaign.
“Never take a pill that wasn’t prescribed directly to you. Never take a pill from a friend. Never take a pill bought on social media. Just one pill is dangerous and one pill can kill,” Milgram said.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]