DEA Issues Public Safety Alert on Sharp Increase in Fake Prescription Pills Containing Fentanyl and Meth

DEA Warns that International and Domestic Criminal Drug Networks are Flooding the United States with Lethal Counterfeit Pills

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a Public Safety Alert warning Americans of the alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. DEA’s Public Safety Alert, the first in six years, seeks to raise public awareness of a significant nationwide surge in counterfeit pills that are mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs, deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, and are killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate.

These counterfeit pills have been seized by DEA in every U.S. state in unprecedented quantities. More than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized so far this year, which is more than the last two years combined. DEA laboratory testing reveals a dramatic rise in the number of counterfeit pills containing at least two milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a lethal dose. A deadly dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.   

Counterfeit pills are illegally manufactured by criminal drug networks and are made to look like real prescription opioid medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®). Fake prescription pills are widely accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms – making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors.

“The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Anne Milgram, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before. In fact, DEA lab analyses reveal that two out of every five fake pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. DEA is focusing resources on taking down the violent drug traffickers causing the greatest harm and posing the greatest threat to the safety and health of Americans. Today, we are alerting the public to this danger so that people have the information they need to protect themselves and their children.”

The vast majority of counterfeit pills brought into the United States are produced in Mexico, and China is supplying chemicals for the manufacturing of fentanyl in Mexico.

The drug overdose crisis in the United States is a serious public safety threat with rates currently reaching the highest level in history. Drug traffickers are using fake pills to exploit the opioid crisis and prescription drug misuse in the United States, bringing overdose deaths and violence to American communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 93,000 people died of a drug overdose in the United States last year. Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid most commonly found in counterfeit pills, is the primary driver of this alarming increase in overdose deaths. Drug poisonings involving methamphetamine, increasingly found to be pressed into counterfeit pills, also continue to rise as illegal pills containing methamphetamine become more widespread.  

Drug trafficking is also inextricably linked to violence. This year alone, DEA seized more than 2700 firearms in connection with drug trafficking investigations – a 30 percent increase since 2019. DEA remains steadfast in its mission to protect our communities, enforce U.S. drug laws, and bring to justice the foreign and domestic criminals sourcing, producing, and distributing illicit drugs, including counterfeit pills.

This alert does not apply to legitimate pharmaceutical medications prescribed by medical professionals and dispensed by licensed pharmacists. The legitimate prescription supply chain is not impacted. Anyone filling a prescription at a licensed pharmacy can be confident that the medications they receive are safe when taken as directed by a medical professional.

The issuance of today’s Public Safety Alert coincides with the launch of DEA’s One Pill Can Kill Public Awareness Campaign to educate the public of the dangers of counterfeit pills. DEA urges all Americans to be vigilant and aware of the dangers of counterfeit pills, and to take only medications prescribed by a medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. DEA warns that pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal. For more information, visit https://www.dea.gov/onepill or scan the QR code below.

OPCK QR Code

Justice Department Announces First Federal Agents to Use Body-Worn Cameras

Today, (September 1) the Department of Justice announced the launch of the first phase of its Body-Worn Camera Program that requires department law enforcement personnel use body-worn cameras (BWCs) during pre-planned law enforcement operations. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Phoenix and Detroit Field Divisions began using BWCs today during these pre-planned operations. Over the course of the next several weeks, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) will begin the first phase of their BWC programs. The department’s plans include a phased implementation of BWCs, and rely upon Congress to secure the necessary funding to equip agents nationwide with BWCs.

“Keeping our communities safe is a top priority for the Justice Department,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Law enforcement is at its most effective when there is accountability and trust between law enforcement and the community. That is why we have expanded our body worn camera program to our federal agents, to promote transparency and confidence, not only with the communities we serve and protect, but also among our state, local and Tribal law enforcement partners who work alongside our federal agents each day.”

“The Department of Justice recognizes the importance of transparency and accountability in its law enforcement operations,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “Because there are circumstances where the use of force may occur during planned law enforcement operations, we are committed to the use of body-worn cameras by DOJ law enforcement agents in such circumstances. I am proud of the job performed by the department’s law enforcement agents, and I am confident that these policies will continue to engender the trust and confidence of the American people in the department’s work.”

“ATF welcomes the use of body worn cameras by our agents,” said Acting Director Marvin G. Richardson of the ATF. “The department’s policy reflects ATF’s commitment to transparency as we work to reduce firearm violence in our communities.”

“The Drug Enforcement Administration is committed to the safety and security of the people we serve, our agents, and task force officers,” said Administrator Anne Milgram of the DEA. “We welcome the addition of body worn cameras and appreciate the enhanced transparency and assurance they provide to the public and to law enforcement officers working hard to keep our communities safe and healthy.”

“The FBI remains committed to meeting the need for transparency,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Phasing in the use of BWCs is another, important way for us to meet that need.”

“Every day USMS task forces lawfully apprehend violent criminals with the utmost professionalism,” said Director Donald Washington of the U.S. Marshals Service. “We continue striving to fortify the public’s trust in our responsibility to uphold the rule of law while keeping communities safe as we have for more than two centuries. Body worn cameras increase the transparency of law enforcement activities, and we will work to obtain the necessary resources to fully execute our body-worn camera program. As we do so, Deputy United States Marshals – along with thousands of local task force officers on USMS-led task forces – will continue to safeguard communities from violent criminals, drug traffickers and threats of terrorism. These interagency task force operations are crucial to public safety.” 

On June 7, based on recommendations from the Department’s law enforcement components, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco directed the ATF, DEA, FBI and USMS to develop individualized comprehensive policies that require agents to wear and activate BWC recording equipment for purposes of recording their actions during: (1) a pre-planned attempt to serve an arrest warrant or other pre-planned arrest, including the apprehension of fugitives sought on state and local warrants; or (2) the execution of a search or seizure warrant or order. Consistent across each of these policies is a presumption that BWC recordings depicting conduct resulting in serious bodily injury or death of another will be released as soon as practical.   

The use of BWCs by federal agents builds upon the department’s October 2019 pilot program and October 2020 policy announcement to permit federally deputized task force officers to activate BWCs during these pre-planned law enforcement operations. Since October 2020, ATF, DEA, FBI and USMS have been integrating the use of BWCs on federal task forces around the nation. The department continues to encourage participating task force agencies to contact the sponsoring federal agency for more information about their BWC program.

DEA Finalizes Measures to Expand Medication-Assisted Treatment

Improved access will benefit rural and underserved areas with limited treatment options

The Drug Enforcement Administration today announced an important step to improve access to medications for opioid use disorder, especially in rural areas where those suffering with opioid use disorder may have limited treatment options.

Under the final rule published today, DEA registrants who are authorized to dispense methadone for opioid use disorder would be authorized to add a “mobile component” to their existing registration – eliminating the separate registration requirement for these mobile narcotic treatment programs (NTPs). This will streamline the registration process and make it easier for registrants to provide needed services in remote or underserved areas. The rule also outlines the reports and records that shall be maintained for NTPs that wish to expand the reach of their treatment programs by use of mobile components.

“In the United States, we have been facing an opioid epidemic for more than a decade,” said DEA Assistant Administrator for Diversion Control Tim McDermott. “We are losing tens of thousands of Americans per year to opioid-involved overdoses. The Administration, DOJ, DEA, HHS, among many others, are squarely focused on efforts to improve the use of medication-assisted treatment in order to reduce overdose deaths and help those with opioid-addictions recover. Today’s action sends a very important message that we support the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder and are using all the tools at our disposal to make treatment options available to anyone in need of them, anywhere in the country.”

“Today’s action by the DEA will improve access to life-saving medication for opioid use disorder, especially for those in underserved communities who face barriers to treatment,” said Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy Regina LaBelle. “This new rule is a significant step forward that supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s drug policy priorities, including expanding access to evidence-based treatment and advancing racial equity in our approach to drug policy.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, provisional data indicate that there were more than 67,500 reported overdose deaths attributed to opioids during the 12-month period ending in November 2020. This accounts for approximately three quarters of all drug overdose deaths in the United States.

The demand for evidence-based medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders, including opioid use disorder, has increased over the years, especially for services provided by NTPs. In certain areas of the country – particularly rural, urban, and Tribal communities – this has resulted in long waiting lists and high services fees. In addition, the distance to the nearest NTP or the lack of consistent access to transportation in rural and underserved communities may prevent or substantially impede access to these critical services.

Methadone is one of three FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder.  There are more than 1,900 narcotic treatment program locations across the country, including opioid treatment programs, withdrawal management services that utilize methadone, and compounders.

This final rule builds on existing experience and provides additional flexibility for NTPs in operating mobile components, subject to the regulatory restrictions put into place to prevent the diversion of controlled substances.

For more information, the final rule is available here.

DEA Museum to Hold Lecture Series ‘Disrupt, Dismantle, and Destroy: Smuggling Stories’

The Drug Enforcement Administration Museum and Visitors Center will present the next installment of its Lecture Series, “Disrupt, Dismantle, and Destroy: Smuggling Stories,” at 1 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. CDT) on June 17.

Join host Josh Edmundson, the DEA Museum’s Curator of Education, for a live, virtual discussion with DEA experts about drug smuggling, a fundamental element of all major drug trafficking organizations’ business models and a critical component of DEA’s work.

Smuggling Stories investigates one of the pillars of DEA’s Kingpin Strategy: disrupting smuggling routes and discovering and seizing shipments of illicit narcotics, weapons, cash, and other goods. The Kingpin Strategy focuses on removing the delivery capabilities of drug trafficking organizations to prevent their products from further distribution in the United States.

The Lecture Series will feature retired Special Agent Tony Placido and Special Agent Nate Jones, who will speak about DEA’s work thwarting the efforts of international drug trafficking organizations and the unique enforcement challenge that is our Southern Border.

As part of the event, Mr. Edmundson will present additional information on smuggling artifacts using objects from the Museum’s collection.

The DEA Museum collects, preserves, and interprets the material culture and artifacts pertaining to DEA and its predecessor agencies, U.S. drug policy and enforcement of U.S. drug laws, and drug education programs. The Museum interprets its collection for the public benefit through permanent and temporary exhibits, programs, the Museum website, publications, social media, and other mediums.

This event is free and open to the public. Sign language interpretation will be provided. Reserve your free ticket at www.smuggling_stories.eventbrite.com.

WHEN: Thursday, June 17, 1 to 2:30 p.m. EDT (2 to 3:30 p.m. CDT)

WHERE: Live-streamed from DEA Headquarters

ACCESS: Streaming link will be emailed to all ticket holders

EMAIL QUESTIONS: During the event, email questions to Elizabeth.P.Thompson@usdoj.gov

CONTACT: DEA Museum (202) 307-3463, DEAMuseum@usdoj.gov or Elizabeth Thompson, Visitor Services Coordinator, Elizabeth.P.Thompson@usdoj.gov

DEA Launches Project Wave Break to Stop Flood of Deadly Fentanyl

DEA illustration of 2 milligrams of Fentanyl, a lethal dose in most persons.

 

Today, Tuesday April 27, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a new initiative, Project Wave Breaker, to disrupt the flow of deadly fentanyl into the United States.

Project Wave Breaker will direct interdiction, enforcement, and outreach efforts to high-impact areas to disrupt the flow of fentanyl in and around the United States. The initiative will also employ analytical intelligence assets to target the activities of Mexican transnational criminal organizations, which are the primary suppliers and distributors of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl substances throughout the United States.

“While a major entry point for fentanyl is the Southwest border, the cartels are spreading their poison into communities across the Nation,” said DEA Acting Administrator D. Christopher Evans. “Through this initiative, we’re tackling a very real public health, public safety, and national security threat, identifying the most egregious street-level networks in our communities and working our way up through the supply chain.”

The eleven divisions participating in Project Wave Breaker are credited with 85 percent of all synthetic opioids seized by the DEA in 2020. They include: Phoenix, New York, San Diego, New England, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, Houston, and El Paso.

Mexican cartels, particularly the Sinaloa Cartel, have capitalized on the opioid epidemic and prescription drug misuse and abuse in the United States, flooding communities with illicit fentanyl and driving the record-setting rates of overdose deaths. According to the most recently published CDC provisional data, more than 87,200 people died from an overdose last year, marking the largest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. Deaths involving synthetic opioids increased nearly 60 percent during the same 12-month period ending September 1, 2020.

Facts about fentanyl:

  • Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent that morphine.
  • Of counterfeit pills tested in DEA laboratories, one in four pills made with fentanyl contained a potentially lethal dose.
  • A kilogram of fentanyl can contain 500,000 potentially lethal doses. Last year, the eleven divisions participating in Project Wave Breaker seized a combined total of 2,316 kilograms of fentanyl (more than a billion potentially lethal doses).
  • The seizure of fentanyl-laced pills along the Southwest border increased more than 89 percent from January 2019 to December 2020.

Project Wave Breaker aims to reduce the amount of fentanyl coming across the Southwest border, reduce crime and violence associated with drug trafficking, and ultimately save lives by reducing the demand for illicit fentanyl.

For resources and additional information on fentanyl and other illicit drugs, visit www.dea.gov/divisions/facts-about-fentanyl.