‘This is very, very serious’: DEA warns of dangers of fake pills leading to overdose deaths


SAN DIEGO – The Drug Enforcement Administration on Monday issued its first public safety alert in six years, warning the American public about a surge in counterfeit prescription drugs contributing to a rise in overdose deaths in the country.

John Callery, special agent in charge of the DEA San Diego Field Division, talks to FOX 5 reporter Ashley Jacobs on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.

More than 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been seized by the agency this year, more than the past two previous years combined, the agency said, including some containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. It comes as more Americans than ever before are dying from fentanyl overdoses, according to John Callery, special agent in charge of the DEA San Diego Field Division.

“We’re going to have over 500 people that are going to die here in San Diego from an opioid overdose death,” Callery said, adding that the majority of those deaths would be from fentanyl poisoning.

The agency said the majority of the counterfeit pills are being brought into the United States from Mexico with China supplying chemicals to manufacturers in Mexico. In a news release, the DEA said they are being developed to mimic the look of real prescription opioids, including oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam as well as stimulants like Adderall.

According to Callery, some 700,000 fake pills have been seized in the San Diego area in the past 90 days.

“Out of that 700,000, our tests are coming back about 40-45% of those have a deadly amount of fentanyl in them,” he said. “That means if you took out of 700,000, a good 300,000 of those… it will kill you.”

The country’s opioid addiction has come on in waves, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The first began in the 1990s with a rise in the prescription of opioids, creating a rise in overdose deaths involving opioids starting as early as 1999. Others began in 2010 with an increase in overdose deaths involving heroin and in 2013 with a rise in overdose deaths tied to fentanyl, the agency said.

But as prescriptions become more difficult to get, some addicts turn to alternative avenues to acquire fake oxycodone pills, at times laced with deadly amounts of fentanyl.

“All of them have fentanyl in them, so it cuts across every demographic you can think of: every person listening to this you and your family are at risk,” Callery said.

It’s not the first time the DEA has warned of the dangers of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, but the agency says it’s never seen an issue like this where mass amounts of chemicals are making it across the San Diego border.

“This is far different than what we’ve spoken of in the past,” Callery said. “This is very, very serious.”

More information on the safety alert, including facts, resources and treatment options, is available online at dea.gov/onepill.

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