By Kevin Deutsch
Street pills purporting to be painkillers like oxycodone but actually containing the potentially deadly opioid fentanyl are causing alarm among local law enforcement and politicians, spurring deputies to issue a new warning about “counterfeit” street pills laced with the drug.
The fentanyl media bulletin from the Broward Sheriff’s Office comes at a time when data show Broward County tallied the highest number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Florida in 2020, according to calculations by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
At least 642 overdose deaths involving fentanyl were recorded in Broward in 2020, among the 5,302 overdose deaths linked to fentanyl statewide—a 63 percent increase in Florida from 2019, according to the commission’s data.
Since 2019, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the number of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl seized by the DEA has jumped more than 400 percent. Investigators have also seen a “significant rise” in the number of fake pills seized that contain at least two milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a deadly dose, according to BSO.
“The statistics are undeniable. Fentanyl is a growing problem in our community and across the nation,” said Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, co-chair of Project Opioid Broward, an effort by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance Foundation and Florida Blue Foundation to address the opioid epidemic. “We know that people are struggling with drug addiction. We want to see them get the help they need and not die from a lethal dose of fentanyl concealed in an illegal counterfeit pill.”
Illicit chemical labs in China illegally produce fentanyl and its derivatives for shipment to Mexico. Drug cartels use the opioid in its pain pills, heroin, cocaine, and counterfeit versions of Adderall and other prescription drugs, which are trafficked in American communities, including Tamarac and Coral Springs.
Fentanyl has been showing up more frequently in local supplies of cocaine, heroin, and street pills. The opioid is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Doctors prescribe pharmaceutical fentanyl to treat severe pain, especially after surgery and advanced-stage cancer.
Most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose are linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which is distributed through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often added to other drugs because of its extreme potency, making drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous.
According to the BSO bulletin, drug dealers often sell counterfeit pills containing fentanyl on social media or e-commerce websites, enabling their purchase by anyone with an internet connection.
The pills are often made to look like prescription opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and alprazolam, or stimulants like amphetamines, deputies said.
He said his nephew Eli “died from an unintentional fentanyl overdose using a legal herbal supplement that had been laced with fentanyl, and he would have turned 21 tomorrow.”
“What happened to Eli is not unique,” said Deutch, who represents Coral Springs and Parkland. “Young people on social media who think that they’re buying Adderall or Xanax are being sold fentanyl-contaminated counterfeits. It is the responsibility of every member of Congress to acknowledge that fentanyl is killing our constituents everywhere in America.”
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.