Over 800 arrests made in DEA crackdown on fake pills containing fentanyl


By Evan Perez, CNN Justice Correspondent

The Drug Enforcement Administration said Thursday it made 810 arrests and seized more than 1.8 million fake pills during a two-month sweep to stem the flow of counterfeit drugs containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The lethal tablets have fueled an increase in drug overdose deaths in the United States in recent years, and largely come from Mexico, where the drug cartels produce the tablets from precursor chemicals imported from China, said senior US officials at a press conference Thursday.

“Illicit fentanyl was responsible for nearly three-quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco told Justice Department headquarters.

“The ubiquity of these illicit drugs, and the fatal overdoses that result too often, is a problem that crosses America, from small towns to big cities and everything in between.”

DEA administrator Anne Milgram said the agency was working to shut down extensive distribution channels selling pills that look like brand name prescription drugs like Xanax and Percocet.

“DEA lab tests show that today four in 10 fake pills containing fentanyl contain a potentially fatal dose (2 milligrams),” the agency said in a press release.

Milgram said the DEA has never seen a higher case fatality rate.

The fake pills seized were capable of killing more than 700,000 people, she said.

During the sweep, the DEA also seized enough powder to make tens of millions of pills, over 4,000 kilograms of methamphetamine and over 650 kilograms of cocaine.

The agency seized more than 9.5 million fake tablets last year, an increase of 430% from 2019.

Milgram said the pills are widely available on social media platforms as well as on the streets, an issue she says social media companies need to tackle.

Milgram said she raised the issue with Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero in a meeting this week, asking to work with Mexican law enforcement to resolve the issue.

Earlier this week, the DEA issued a public safety alert regarding a sharp increase in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. This was the first such alert issued by the DEA in six years.

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