(Trends Wide) – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said Thursday it made 810 arrests and seized more than 1.8 million pills during a two-month raid to stem the flow of counterfeit drugs. containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The deadly tablets are driving an increase in drug overdose deaths in the United States in recent years, and they are largely trafficked from Mexico, where drug cartels produce the tablets from precursor chemicals imported from China, they said. senior US officials at a press conference on Thursday.
“Illicit fentanyl was responsible for nearly three-quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020,” said US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco at the Justice Department headquarters.
“The pervasiveness of these illicit drugs, and the fatal overdoses that result too often, is a problem that runs through the United States, from small towns to big cities and everything in between.”
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said the agency is working to shut down broad distribution networks that sell tablets that look like brand-name prescription drugs, such as Xanax and Percocet.
High case fatality rate from counterfeit pills
“DEA laboratory tests reveal that today, four out of 10 counterfeit fentanyl pills contain a potentially lethal dose (2 milligrams),” the agency said in a news release.
Milgram said the DEA has never seen a higher fatality rate.
The seized counterfeit pills were capable of killing more than 700,000 people, he said. During the raid, the DEA also seized enough powder to make tens of millions of pills, more than 4,000 kilograms of methamphetamine, and more than 650 kilograms of cocaine.
The agency seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit tablets last year, a 430% increase over 2019.
Milgram said those pills are widely available on social media platforms, as well as on the streets, a problem that he said social media companies need to address.
Milgram said he raised the issue with Mexico’s attorney general, Alejandro Gertz Manero, during a meeting this week, asking to work with Mexican law enforcement agencies to address the issue.
Earlier this week, the DEA issued a public safety alert about a sharp increase in prescription drugs that are counterfeit with mixtures of fentanyl and methamphetamine. It was the first such alert issued by the DEA in six years.