CDC alert: Drug overdose deaths involving counterfeit pills double

Bridgette and Tom Norring’s 19-year-old son, Devin, was an athlete, honor student and musician who strived to do his best in everything he pursued. However, the Hastings, Minnesota teen was struggling with severe migraines and dental pain in 2020, and his medical appointments were canceled because of COVID-19. That’s when Devin decided to buy a Percocet via Snapchat to deal with the pain. Unfortunately, the counterfeit pill ended up not being Percocet but a deadly dose of fentanyl.

“I said, ‘You can’t die from taking a Percocet.’ My other child said, ‘Yes, you can, Mom. If it has fentanyl in it, you can die.’ I remember turning to the law enforcement officer standing at the door and saying, ‘My son was murdered,’” Bridgette told Emily’s Hope during a podcast episode of Grieving Out Loud.

Sadly, this story is becoming all too common, especially among younger Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that the number of deadly overdoses involving counterfeit pills doubled from 2% in July 2019 to 4.7% in December 2021. Some areas saw even higher rates, including the western U.S., where it has tripled to 14.7%. The CDC also points out that there were likely more deaths caused by fake pills, but they might not have been reported, or there just wasn’t enough evidence left behind to connect them to the pills.

 The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also issued warnings about the nationwide surge in deadly counterfeit pills. In 2022, the DEA seized more than 58.3 million fentanyl-laced fake pills and more than 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. The 2022 seizures are equivalent to more than 387.9 million deadly doses of fentanyl. 

Still, many teenagers are not aware of the dangers of fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills. As Emily’s Hope previously reported, a 2023 poll conducted by the Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition (RAYSAC) found that nearly one in three people aged 18 to 24 didn’t believe pills obtained from sources other than licensed pharmacies could contain fentanyl.

The CDC warns that it’s important for parents to talk to their children about the dangers of counterfeit pills.