Imitation prescription pills often look real but can contain fatal doses of fentanyl.
Ohio's overdose crisis has been heavily linked to the use of prescription painkillers or heroin, but it is not the case anymore. Health officials now warn historic levels of overdose deaths are being exacerbated by the availability of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, a potent and deadly synthetic drug.
Shabbir Imber Safdar, executive director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, said fake pills are being sold as prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, the anxiety drug Xanax, and stimulant medications.
"There's a lot of young people who take Adderall, and they're not particularly careful about where they get their pills," Safdar pointed out. "I think we're going to see a rise in deaths in the 16-24 age range from fake Adderall made with fentanyl."
In May, two Ohio State University students died from suspected use of fake Adderall pills laced with fentanyl. Ohio is expected to report more than 5,200 overdose deaths for 2021, compared with just 327 in 1999.
Counterfeit medications are commonly sold through social media, on hidden sites on the "dark web" or in person by someone claiming they are real. Safdar noted an estimated four in 10 pills with fentanyl contains a potentially deadly dose.
"Even the first fake pill you ever take might kill you because if it has too much fentanyl, there's no time to get addicted, that first pill will kill you," Safdar stressed. "So it's really a game of Russian roulette when you take one of these pills that did not come from a pharmacy, which is the only safe source."
The Drug Enforcement Administration recently issued a Public Safety Alert about the rise in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl, and is encouraging people to only use prescription medications as directed by a medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist.