Seizures of pills laced with fentanyl skyrocket, according to new study

Law enforcement is seizing a skyrocketing number of fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl, according to new research published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. 

Researchers found that law enforcement seized more than 115 million pills in 2023, compared to around 71 million in 2022 and less than 50,000 in 2017. Law enforcement also found a significant increase in the number and weight of fentanyl-containing powder during this time, according to the study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“Illicit pills are made to look identical to real prescription pills but can actually contain fentanyl,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow. “It is urgently important that people know that any pills given to someone by a friend, purchased on social media, or received from any source other than a pharmacy could be potentially deadly – even after a single ingestion.”

The analysis also found that while the Western U.S. historically had fewer fentanyl seizures, it now has the most in the country. The proportion of fentanyl seized in pill form was also the highest, with almost 78% of fentanyl seizures being pills in 2023.

“These data emphasize the need for continued monitoring of regional shifts in the fentanyl supply to help inform targeted prevention and public health responses,” researchers wrote.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, more than 107,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2022, with 75% of them involving an opioid, such as fentanyl.

“While some people knowingly consume fentanyl, many people do not know if the drugs they plan to use contain fentanyl,” researchers wrote. “This is especially true of illicit counterfeit pills, which are often made to resemble prescription medications such as oxycodone or benzodiazepines, but really contain fentanyl.”

Earlier this month, Emily’s Hope reported on a new analysis, finding that nearly all counterfeit OxyContin pills in Rhode Island now contain fentanyl.