Tennesseans urged to dispose of unwanted pills to help curb opioid epidemic, counterfeit pill problem

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s take back time in Tennessee. That’s what health experts and law enforcement are saying about National Prescription Drug Take Back Day this weekend.

A major issue that law enforcement in Tennessee is dealing with right now is a record number of counterfeit prescription pills that contain lethal doses of fentanyl.

​“This, in my view, and my 20 plus years in law enforcement is the most dangerous threat we’ve encountered in our drug distribution supply,” said Nashville DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brett Pritts. “The opioid epidemic has gripped us for a number of years, this is just another part of it. This to me is more dangerous, because of the fentanyl being put in the counterfeit pills. They look like real, legitimate pharmaceutical pills that you would get from a pharmacist.”

The DEA said criminal drug networks are exploiting the opioid epidemic by making and falsely marketing fake pills as legitimate prescriptions and they are flooding communities across the country. The number of counterfeit pills seized by the DEA that contain fentanyl has more than quadrupled since 2019.

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“These pills are made to look like legitimate drugs that you would receive from a pharmacist. It could be an oxycodone pill, Percocet, Xanax, even Adderall. We’re seeing methamphetamine put in counterfeit pills that look like Adderall,” said Pritts. “These drugs are made to look like legitimate pharmaceuticals, and are being sold by dangerous drug traffickers to our citizens.”

According to the DEA, the country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic where drug overdoses are up 30% over the last year alone. It’s taking more than 250 lives every day. Opioid-related deaths accounted for 75% of all overdose deaths in 2020.

The whole purpose of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is to help people safely, easily, and anonymously get rid of unneeded medication in their homes that is old or unwanted. All too often they become a gateway to addiction.

“You have to get to your children as early as possible. This is something that’s out there on social media platforms. It’s in the schools,” said Pritts. “Parents need to be aware that this threat is real and a lot of times children look at pills as being harmless – they’re not injecting themselves with any substance, they’re not putting anything up their nose. It’s just a pill so they casually think it’s okay.”

In the middle of the pandemic, Nashville’s DEA moved from its downtown location to a bigger space in South Nashville. He said the DEA has seen a rise in drug trafficking throughout Tennessee. And, judging on what they’ve seen in recent years they decided to add additional special agents to their office In Nashville and Memphis.

“We’re targeting the drug distribution organizations that are responsible for distributing this to our citizens across the border as well. We’re working with our offices in Mexico to identify who’s producing it, how it’s being produced, how do we interdict it? How do we stop it from coming into the United States, and then once it’s in the United States, who’s responsible for trafficking these drugs to our citizens? And that’s where we come into play. That’s where we investigate,” said Pritts.

They’re now asking the community to do their part as well by dropping off unnecessary prescription pills that can get into the wrong hands, cause someone to become addicted, and further fuel the opioid epidemic.

Click here to find drop off locations.

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