Counterfeit prescription drugs containing deadly substances discovered
PHOENIX – The DEA is alerting all citizens to drug overdose deaths tied to counterfeit pills laced with powerful opioid fentanyl. Manufactured by Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and sold as oxycodone on the illicit drug market, fentanyl is an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine. These counterfeit pills are smuggled into the U.S. by Mexican DTOs through Arizona. At least 32 deaths in the last 18 months in Maricopa County have been tied to these counterfeit pills. Alarmingly, in nearly 75% of those overdoses, examiners also found dipyrone (aka Metamizole) a painkiller banned for use in the U.S. since 1977.
“Manufacturing these pills using extremely deadly substances like fentanyl is a reflection of the depravity by which Mexican drug traffickers operate to further their profit margin,” said Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of DEA in Arizona. “Mexican DTOs are pushing these deadly substances into the illicit drug market to expand their business among the already increasing opioid-addicted population. People are dying across the country and here in Arizona.”
DEA agents and intelligence personnel were provided this most recent reporting as part of ongoing efforts by DEA’s Heroin Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), an enforcement program by DEA’s Phoenix Division to identify and arrest drug traffickers directly responsible for overdose deaths. The partnership with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner has been integral in identifying current opioid trends and assisting DEA to deploy its resources for maximum impact against drug trafficking.
Of the 32 associated deaths:
– All of the deaths were positive for fentanyl.
– The average age at death is 35 years, with a range of 16-64 years of age.
– The average age at death for females is 37 years and for males it is 34 years.
– 50% of the deaths are Whites, 38% Hispanics.
– 75% of the deaths are male.
– 11 of the deaths were in Phoenix, 7 in Mesa
The DEA HEAT is examining all available reporting surrounding these deaths to pursue any investigative leads and determine the origin of the counterfeit pills and its current prevalence across the state. Agents are seeking the assistance of the community and law enforcement to share information concerning the availability of this and any other synthetic opioids as they surface within local drug markets. The DEA through its HEAT initiative will continue to notify the public of these new drug threats as they emerge.