Counterfeit drugs, overdoses on the rise, TN officials warn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Monday, multiple agencies issued an alert following an increase in counterfeit pills contributing to an “epidemic” among Tennesseans.

Several state agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), say there is a growing concern surrounding the fake drugs, which mimic the color, shape, and markings of popular pharmaceuticals.

“We know the vast majority of the illegal fentanyl that is entering our country, coming from nation-state actors in China that are partnering with the cartel in Mexico and other southern countries,” said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director, David Rausch. “The reality is they’re being shipped everywhere so every community has the potential of seeing these show up in their neighborhood.”

These pills are meant to look like prescription pills but contain other substances like fentanyl, a drug contributing to many overdoses within the state.

Officials compared images of real oxycodone and Xanax pills to fake drugs, showing the difficulty one may have in finding the difference.

TBI said half of the oxycodone pills the agency has submitted as evidence do not contain oxycodone, but instead, fentanyl.

“If you’re buying pills on the street in our state, you’re gambling with your life,” warned Rausch.

Brett Pritts, Special Agent in Charge, DEA said 4 out of every 10 seized pills analyzed at DEA laboratories contained a lethal dosage of fentanyl.

“These counterfeit pills are produced in makeshift laboratories primarily in Mexico by violent drug traffickers with ingredients and chemicals from China,” said Pritts.

Investigators say counterfeit oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, Adderall are being sold on the street, social media, and the dark web.

During the Monday briefing, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey reported drug overdoses rose an alarming 45% from 2019 to 2020, with a loss of 3,032 Tennesseans.

The public was pleaded by officials to reach out for help in treating drug addiction, specifically for prescription pills. If you or someone you know needs substance abuse treatment, you can call or text the Tennessee Redline at 1-800-889-9789.   

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