People in the U.S. have become increasingly dependent on certain medications over the years, with the most commonly prescribed drugs being antibiotics, antidepressants, and opioid painkillers. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, nearly 70 percent of all Americans take at least one prescription medication and more than half take at least two. But just because you’ve become used to taking certain medications doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk for danger. In fact, officials are now warning that people who take two popular meds should be aware of a worrying trend with potentially fatal consequences. Read on to find out more about this urgent new alert.
Fentanyl deaths have become increasingly common in the U.S. over the last few tears. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone—with fentanyl being the primary offender—rose to 56,516 in 2020. This is a significant increase compared to around 30,000 in 2017 and less than 10,000 in 2015 and the years prior.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is an opioid usually used to treat patients with chronic severe pain or severe pain following surgery, and it is about 100 times more potent than morphine. But while fentanyl does have “legitimate medical use” under the supervision of licensed medical professionals, the DEA warns that lethal doses of this opioid are being mixed with other medicines and being sold illegally.
“It only takes two milligrams of fentanyl to kill the average person,” Jon DeLena, a DEA associate special agent in charge, told ABC-affiliate WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire. “That’s enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.”
Law enforcement officials across the U.S. are now warning that they are seeing a rise in counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl. Tom Synan, a police chief in Ohio and co-chair of the Hamilton County Addition Response Coalition, told ABC-affiliate WCPO in Cincinnati that there are two common medications in particular being targeted: ADHD medication Adderall and anti-anxiety medication Xanax.
“If you’re getting a pill from social media, the internet, off the street, from a friend, from a dealer—you don’t know what’s in that pill,” Synan warned. “If you don’t get it from a doctor or pharmacist, you don’t know what’s in that drug. There’s a high chance that fentanyl can be in it.”
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New warnings from officials come as two Ohio State University students just died from drug overdoses. There has been no confirmation on the cause of death, but Columbus Public Health recently posted an alert about fake Adderall pills laced with fentanyl, and investigators are looking into the possibility that the students died after taking laced Adderall, WCPO reported.
Despite the danger affecting people of all ages, officials are worried that this recent rise in counterfeit pills seems to put young adults in particular danger. “We’re seeing it with them because they believe that they’re safe,” Patrick Broderick, a sergeant with the Hudson Police Department in New Hampshire, told WMUR. “They believe they’re getting a real pill, whether it be Xanax, Adderall, or Percocet.”
Synan added, “It no longer just applies to that opioid user. It now applies to middle America—kids in school, someone thinking, ‘If I take an Adderall or oxycodone for pain, if I take something because I want a quick pick-me-up, there’s a potential it could have fentanyl.'”
Research shows medication laced with fentanyl is hardly a rare occurrence. According to a study published May 1 in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, the number of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl has skyrocketed significantly in the past few years. Researchers from New York University found that two million fake pills with fentanyl were seized by U.S. law enforcement officials in the last quarter of 2021 alone. In comparison, 42,000 pills were found in the first quarter of 2018, indicating a massive increase of 4,850 percent over the last four years.
“An increase in illicit pills containing fentanyl points to a new and increasingly dangerous period in the United States,” Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study, said in a statement (via The Guardian). “Pills are often taken or snorted by people who are more naive to drug use, and who have lower tolerances. When a pill is contaminated with fentanyl, as is now often the case, poisoning can easily occur.”