Fake Prescription Drugs: More Widespread Than You Think

The United States is in the middle of a widespread opioid abuse crisis today.  Whether it involves prescription painkillers or the illegal street versions of the drugs, they have caused deaths on a monumental scale in recent years.  Many of the overdose deaths are due to fake prescription drugs.

Why are the unprecedented numbers of overdose deaths continuing to rise?  According to the DEA, most of the problem is caused by counterfeit prescription drugs that are abundant in the U.S. today.  For instance, fake prescription drugs containing fentanyl are smuggled into our country from Canada and Mexico. Drug traffickers buy powdered fentanyl from China to create the pills.  Using fentanyl in the pills is a way to increase profits because it is inexpensive and gives the user an intense high.  Some of the pills sell for $10 to $20 per pill on the streets.

High Demand Fuels the Fake Prescription Drugs Market

In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that more than 4.3 million people used pain relievers for non-medical purposes.  These drugs are also being purchased by people who had legitimate prescriptions for opiates, but high prices are forcing them to seek cheaper alternatives.

The CDC reports that more than 700 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in one year alone.  Also, opioids were responsible for about 28,647 deaths in that same year. It’s shocking to note that since 2000, opioid overdoses have tripled in number.

One reason for the high number of overdose deaths has to do with the fact that most people don’t know what’s in the drugs they purchase. They think they’re getting Oxycodone; they don’t realize it contains fentanyl. This is a serious issue because fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

Fake Drugs Are Not Just a Problem on the Streets

Drug traffickers are always looking for ways to improve profits.  Although the U.S. has the safest and most controlled drug supply in the world, traffickers have found ways to infiltrate pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors offices with fake drugs. These traffickers are more of the organized, white-collar criminal types who a pushing out-of-date, stolen, or adulterated, or medications.

Some of the drugs involved in this level of drug trafficking are medications for high-cholesterol, cancer, and mental health conditions.  In 2016, AARP warned the public that hospitals and pharmacies were being flooded with fake prescription drugs. This affects people over the age of 50 because they make up 71 percent of the outpatient prescription users.

Young People at Risk of Fake Drug Overdoses

Most of our college students and young adults are under the impression that prescription drugs are not as harmful as street drugs.  They want to use the drugs to get high or relieve stress, stay up all night, or to alleviate boredom. Most of the time, they are looking for an inexpensive product that will give them the most bang for their money.  This attitude puts them at high risk for coming in contact with some of the dangerous fake prescription drugs.

One way to prevent overdoses in young people is to educate them on how to know the difference between real prescription pills and fake ones.  They can pay attention to such clues as a difference in taste, color, or the way the pill dissolves or breaks. Also, any difference in size or shape can be a red-flag warning.

Anyone who suspects that they have a fake prescription drug should contact the FDA’s Division of Drug Information at druginfo@fda.hhs.gov. If the drug was purchased from a pharmacy, it should be returned there.

If you need more information about fake prescription drugs, contact our toll-free number today.  Or, if you or a loved one needs treatment for addiction, we can help.

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