As part of a nationwide crackdown on the criminal networks responsible for dramatic increases in fentanyl-related deaths, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials in San Diego announced Thursday the local seizure this month of tens of thousands of pills laced with the deadly narcotic.
"I'm pleased to announce that our agents seized over 131,500 fentanyl- laced fake pills in the last eight days -- pills which could have added to the surging numbers of overdose deaths in our communities," said San Diego- area DEA Special Agent in Charge John Callery. "DEA employees in San Diego and Imperial County will continue to focus our resources to get these deadly drugs off our streets, because one pill can kill."
Over the period, DEA personnel in the two counties also seized 720 methamphetamine-laced fake Xanax pills, 1.9 kilograms of fentanyl powder, five pounds of methamphetamine, one kilogram of heroin, small amounts of LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, several pounds of marijuana, and an outdoor cannabis- growing operation, according to the federal agency.
At a news conference Thursday morning, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram announced a ramped-up law enforcement effort to protect communities from the flood of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced pills across the United States.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid found in most of the fake pills that were seized, is the primary driver of the recent increase in U.S. overdose deaths, according to the DEA.
"Illicit fentanyl was responsible for nearly three-quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020," Monaco said. "The pervasiveness of these illicit drugs and the fatal overdoses that too often result is a problem that cuts across America, from small towns to big cities and everything in between."
Mexican criminal drug networks are mass-producing illicit fentanyl and counterfeit pills laced with it, using chemicals sourced largely from China, and are distributing them through U.S. criminal networks, according to the DEA.
The pills are designed to appear nearly identical to legitimate prescriptions such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Xanax and other medicines. Criminal drug networks sell them through social media, e-commerce, the dark web and other distribution networks.
Four out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose, according to the federal agency, and the number of fake pills containing fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019.
The DEA launched a nationwide law enforcement effort early last month to address the dramatic increases in the availability and lethality of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills.
Over the past two months, the agency, working with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, seized 1.8 million fentanyl-laced fake pills and arrested 810 drug traffickers in cities, suburbs and rural communities across the United States, officials said.
The amount of fentanyl-laced pills seized during the operation is enough to kill more than 700,000 people, according to the DEA.