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  • Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. A lethal dose of fentanyl is just two milligrams. 

    During the last decade, the presence of fentanyl-laced prescription drugs has increased. Many people don’t know that there’s fentanyl in their drugs, so it’s easy to overdose. Fentanyl is the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the United States today.

    There are a few ways to identify fake pills, but it can be hard to tell the difference. The only way to ensure you’re getting the real thing is to fill a prescription with a registered pharmacist.

    Fentanyl-Laced Prescription Drugs

    Law enforcement has seized several types of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines containing fentanyl. The most common are oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco), and alprazolam (Xanax bars).

    Fentanyl-laced prescription drugs may contain only fentanyl and none of the active ingredients (oxycodone, etc.), or they could be made of both drugs. Drug dealers cannot ensure that a fake pill isn’t made with a lethal dose since a small amount of fentanyl can be fatal.

    Fentanyl-laced prescription drugs have appeared across the country:

    • Between July and September of 2021, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized 1.8 million fentanyl-laced pills from all over the United States. By October 2021, they had found over 9.5 million fake pills that year.
    • In January 2016, the DEA seized 6,000 counterfeit 30 mg oxycodone pills containing fentanyl from one manufacturer in New Jersey.
    • Between March and April 2014, 52 people in Sacramento, California overdosed on fake Norco pills, and 14 died.
    • Between 2014 and 2015, the DEA New England Field Division seized 7,000 fake 30 mg oxycodone pills.

    The DEA has even found Adderall laced with fentanyl. This combination is unusual because fentanyl is a depressant drug with opposing effects to Adderall, a stimulant.

    Identifying Fake Pills

    You might be able to taste or feel the difference between a real and fake pill if you regularly take a prescription medication. Close examination may also help you determine if they’re real or not.

    If you’re not positive a pill is real, check to see if:

    • it’s more crumbly or harder than it should be
    • the edges are sharper, rounder, or uneven
    • the packaging looks wrong or has inaccurate information
    • the numbers or letters on it aren’t right
    • the color isn’t quite the same

    Pharmaceutical companies produce mass quantities of drugs that meet strict quality standards. If something seems off, the pills were likely produced in a less professional environment and you can’t guarantee that they’re safe.

    You can’t always tell by sight if a pill is real or not. Counterfeit prescription pills are made to look like authentic medication. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend testing pills for fentanyl before taking them. 

    The Dangers Of Fake Pills

    A major concern about fake pills is that they can cause fatal overdoses. Many people don’t know the pills they’re taking are fake or that they contain fentanyl. 

    The DEA reports that four out of every 10 fentanyl-laced pills contain a lethal dose of fentanyl. Their social media campaign, “One Pill Can Kill,” aims to bring awareness to the risk of fentanyl-laced prescription drugs.

    Fentanyl overdose signs are:

    • slow, shallow, or difficult breathing
    • blue skin, nails, or lips
    • cold, clammy skin
    • pinpoint pupils
    • extreme sedation
    • loss of consciousness
    • coma

    If you suspect a fentanyl overdose, call for help immediately. If you or a loved one are taking opioids—even if they’re prescribed to you—it’s a good idea to keep naloxone (Narcan) on hand. Naloxone blocks opioid receptors to temporarily reverse an overdose until medical help arrives.

    Besides the higher risk of opioid overdose, the dangers of fake pills include:

    • complications related to unknown ingredients
    • health problems from substandard ingredients
    • unexpected effects
    • ineffective medication
    • allergic reactions
    • adverse side effects

    Fentanyl-Laced Prescription Drugs

    The only way to avoid fake pills is to get them through a registered pharmacy with a prescription from a licensed medical professional. 

    Buying prescription drugs on the street is gambling with your life. Even getting them from a friend is dangerous if you aren’t positive that they got them legitimately. Online pharmacies may also sell counterfeit pills, even if they seem to be safe.

    Prescription Drug Use & Abuse

    There’s no reason to be concerned about fake pills if you have a legitimate prescription. 

    But if you need to buy prescription drugs from other sources because you don’t have a prescription, or if you’re taking a medication more often than prescribed, in higher doses, or for a longer duration, that’s drug abuse.

    The fentanyl-laced pills that are flooding the country are some of the most addictive drugs available—opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants. Self-medication can quickly lead to addiction, a mental disease that’s difficult to overcome on your own.

    If you’re concerned about the dangers of fake pills but can’t stop getting prescription drugs from questionable sources, we’re here to help. 

    At Ark Behavioral Health, we understand how substance use changes the way you think and act. Our personalized rehab programs can help you reclaim your life. Reach out to one of our treatment specialists today to learn more.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on November 17, 2022
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