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Press Release

United States Attorney Addresses Rising Danger of Counterfeit Prescription Pills

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa
Pills Being Sold as Oxycodone Can Lead to Overdose and Death

United States Attorney Peter E. Deegan, Jr. and law enforcement partners today highlighted the danger that counterfeit prescription pills pose to the community.  Opioid and prescription drug abuse is at an all-time high.  175 Americans die every day from drug overdoses.  Part of this epidemic is the increase in counterfeit pill purchases.  Pills being sold as oxycodone or other drugs over the Internet or from other sources have led to overdoses and deaths across the country and here in Iowa.

United States Attorney Deegan stated, “The opioid epidemic lowered American life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 for the first time in decades.”  Deegan added, “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.  The public must be aware that while these pills may look like prescription drugs, looks can be deceiving.  These pills can be incredibly dangerous because they often contain drugs far more powerful and dangerous than the purchaser realizes.”

Counterfeit pills are incredibly dangerous because these pills often look exactly like prescription oxycodone in size, shape, color, and markings.  In other words, there is no way to tell whether a pill purchased illicitly on the internet or the street is actually oxycodone or a more powerful drug.  The picture below on the left is a picture of a legitimate oxycodone pill.  The picture on the right is a picture of a counterfeit oxycodone pill.                     

Legitimate and Counterfeit Oxycodone

Pills being sold as oxycodone may not contain oxycodone.  Recently, pills that appear to be oxycodone have been found to contain fentanyl and carfentanil.  Fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin, but much more potent.  Carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue.  Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine.  Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.  In 2016, synthetic opioids caused more overdose deaths than heroin. 

These counterfeit pills are also dangerous because users who believe that they are purchasing oxycodone will assume the pills are safe because they appear to be quality-controlled products of a heavily regulated prescription drug industry.  Instead, users may be putting powerful, unknown substances into their bodies, including fentanyl and carfentanil, which have been linked to overdose deaths across the country.

Fentanyl has caused the deaths of multiple people in Iowa over the last few years.  In July 2016, Max Julian Wright was sentenced to life in federal prison after being found guilty of distributing heroin and fentanyl that caused at least 6 overdoses in Cedar Rapids, including two deaths.  Fentanyl has also been linked to multiple overdoses and deaths in Dubuque. 

Unless prescription drugs are obtained from an authorized medical provider or pharmacy, the public should not consume or even handle these pills.  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.  All Iowans are urged to only use prescription drugs prescribed to them by legitimate health care providers.

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Updated April 26, 2018

Community Outreach
Prescription Drugs