New research reveals that the issue of Mexican pharmacies selling fentanyl-laced pills might be even more serious than previously thought. Earlier this year, Emily’s Hope shared news about the U.S. State Department issuing a travel warning concerning counterfeit pills sold in Mexican pharmacies, many of which contain fentanyl.

The travel alert urges Americans to be cautious when purchasing medication in Mexico. This concern arose after a study conducted by UCLA researchers examined legally obtained medications from four cities in northern Mexico. These cities are popular among U.S. travelers seeking affordable healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Shockingly, the study revealed that 40% of the pills sold as oxycodone in these cities contained fentanyl or heroin. Additionally, other medications, such as those sold as Adderall, were found to be laced with methamphetamines.

A separate Los Angeles Times investigation found that 71% of the pills their investigators purchased from Mexican pharmacies were laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine.

Now the Los Angeles Times conducted more thorough research. 

“It’s not just stray single pills that are laced with dangerous substances, but sometimes entire bottles that appear to be factory sealed. And the issue isn’t restricted to one area: It’s happening in tourist hot spots across the country, from the California border to the Yucatán Peninsula and from the southernmost edge of Texas to the Pacific Coast,” the report reads.

Throughout five trips spanning four months, Times reporters purchased and tested 55 pills from 29 pharmacies in eight cities. More than half of the pills were counterfeit, including more than a third of the opioid painkillers, which mostly contained fentanyl. Additionally, 12 out of 15 Adderall samples tested positive for other substances like methamphetamine and ecstasy.

Some of the purchases were made at drugstores in popular coastal destinations like Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. Others were obtained in border towns like Tijuana and Nuevo Progreso, which thrive on medical and pharmaceutical tourism.

“This is just terrible — it shows an utter lack of control in pharmacies,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied drug cartels, told the Times, “It’s institutionalized murder.”

The exact death toll remains uncertain as Mexican authorities do not routinely conduct thorough toxicology testing. However, the Times’ investigation confirmed that at least six Americans have suffered overdoses or died after consuming counterfeit pills bought from pharmacies. The true extent of the impact remains unknown.

While Mexican pharmacies legally sell these counterfeit pills, illegal drug dealers in the United States are also distributing these lethal substances. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued a warning about a sharp nationwide increase in deadly fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills.  

According to the DEA Laboratory’s analysis of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills in 2022, six out of ten pills contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. This marks an increase from their previous announcement in 2021, where four out of ten pills were found to contain a potentially lethal dose.

“More than half of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills being trafficked in communities across the country now contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. This marks a dramatic increase – from four out of ten to six out of ten – in the number of pills that can kill,” said Administrator Anne Milgram. “These pills are being mass-produced by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel in Mexico. Never take a pill that wasn’t prescribed directly to you. Never take a pill from a friend. Never take a pill bought on social media. Just one pill is dangerous and one pill can kill.”

Emily’s Hope has spoken to several parents, including Laura Didier, who have lost children after buying fake pills. Her 17-year-old son, Zach, bought what he thought was Percocet through social media, but it ended up being a deadly dose of fentanyl. 16-year-old Sammy Chapman’s parents also spoke with Emily’s Hope founder Angela Kennecke on a Grieving Out Loud podcast episode. Sammy died after taking what he thought was a single Xanax but was fentanyl. A drug dealer had reached out to Sammy on Snapchat and delivered the deadly pill straight to his house.

Stay tuned to Emily’s Hope as we continue to follow developments on the fentanyl crisis, our country’s drug epidemic, and how lawmakers and law enforcement are tackling these challenges.