More fentanyl crossing border as fake prescription pills, study finds



More fentanyl is coming across the southern border disguised as prescription pills, according to a new study that notes the “number and size of fentanyl seizures is increasing in the U.S.”

A study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy suggests the shift in distribution trends puts “a wider population at risk for unintentional exposure to fentanyl.”

The study adds weight to a recent Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Drug Threat Assessment. That assessment found the purity level of illicit fentanyl in the U.S. drug market has increased and the amount of fentanyl found in counterfeit prescription pills has increased, making the nation’s top drug threat even more dangerous.

The study found the percentage of law enforcement seizures of fentanyl in pill form in the U.S. increased from 10.3% in 2017 to 49% in 2023, with 115.6 million individual pills seized in 2023.

“The integration of fentanyls with the illicit market has grown increasingly complex: while fentanyl powder continues to serve as a common adulterant in drugs sold as heroin in some regions, recent findings suggest that the prevalence of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl has increased in the U.S.,” according to the study.

A lethal dose of the potent opioid is about 2 milligrams, depending on the opioid tolerance of the user. In 2022, the average fentanyl pill contained 2.4 milligrams of fentanyl, according to analysis by DEA forensic chemists who test random samples of the fentanyl seized in the U.S. Overall, the tested samples ranged from a low of .03 milligrams to a high of 9 milligrams.

The purity of powdered fentanyl also has increased. The average purity of the fentanyl powder samples was 19.2% in 2022, a 33% increase since 2021. The overall tested samples ranged from almost no fentanyl to 81.5% pure fentanyl.

Illicit fentanyl killed nearly 38,000 Americans in the first six months of 2023, according to the DEA report. Synthetic opioids were involved in 74,225 deaths in 2022 – 68% of the total 111,036 deaths that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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