Health

U.S. Attorney, law enforcement highlight dangers of counterfeit pills

Counterfeit pills laced with more dangerous drugs

(File photo) Tablets of the opioid-based Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017.   REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
(File photo) Tablets of the opioid-based Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. and law enforcement partners on Thursday highlighted the dangers of counterfeit prescription pills such as oxycodone laced with fentanyl or other lethal drugs.

Deegan, during the news conference, said opioid and prescription drug abuse is at an all-time high nationwide. About 175 people die every day from drug overdoses. Part of this epidemic is due to the increase of counterfeit pill being sold as oxycodone or other drugs over the internet or from other sources, which have led to overdoses and deaths across the country and in Iowa.

“The opioid epidemic lowered American life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 for the first time in decades,” Deegan said in a statement. “Heroin and prescription opioid abuse has taken a devastating toll on our community. But we have also seen a rise in the prevalence of counterfeit prescription pills being sold on the internet and on the street.”

Deegan, along with Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy Acting Director Dale Woolery, Waterloo Police Lt. Jason Feaker, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Dan Stepleton and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick Reinert and Dan Chatham, wanted to make the public aware of these counterfeit pills, which deceiving look like legitimate prescription drugs.

The counterfeit pills often look like prescription oxycodone in size, shape, color, and markings, Deegan said. There is no way to tell if it contains different drugs. He noted that pills being sold as oxycodone may not contain oxycodone.

Recently, pills that appear to be oxycodone have been found to contain fentanyl and carfentanil, Deegan pointed out. Fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin but 100 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue and 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. In 2016, pills containing fentanyl and carfentanil have been linked to overdose deaths across the country, he said.

Fentanyl has caused the deaths of multiple people in Iowa over the last few years, Deegan said. As an example, in July 2016, Max Julian Wright, 38, of Chicago was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of distributing heroin and fentanyl that caused at least 6 overdoses in Cedar Rapids, including two deaths.

Fentanyl also has been linked to multiple overdoses and deaths in Dubuque, he added.

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“The synthetic opioids contained in them are lethal if consumed, but can also cause sickness and even death simply by being absorbed through the skin,” Deegan pointed out. “All Iowans are urged to only use prescription drugs prescribed to them by legitimate health care providers.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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