Over the last four years, the number of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl that have been seized by U.S. law enforcement jumped by 4,850 percent, underscoring how an alarming surge in the deadly drug is putting people at increasing risk for accidental overdose, The Guardian reports. A new study by a consortium of academic researchers, led by New York University, used a first-of-its-kind, real time analysis of federal data. It found that more than 2 million fake pills were seized by officials in the last quarter of 2021 alone – up from 42,000 in the first quarter of 2018. Researchers said the number of individual seizures involving fentanyl pills increased by 834 percent. The study authors say this reflects the huge supply of these pills, which criminal drug networks manufacture to look like legitimate pharmaceutical tablets such as Percocet, Xanax, and Adderall, being imported into the U.S. and sold on the streets.
“These look just like prescription pills – that’s the scary part,” said study author Joseph Palamar of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. He worries about people who dabble in recreational drugs getting hit with deadly doses of fentanyl-tainted drugs. “One pill that contains fentanyl literally can kill you.” The study comes as the number of overdose deaths has exploded to over 100,000 per year due to the huge amounts of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids saturating the drug supply. Fentanyl is as much as 100 times more potent than morphine and, as Palamar notes, one small baggie can contain enough of the drug to kill hundreds of people. In a two-month period in 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it had arrested 810 drug traffickers and seized enough fentanyl-filled pills to kill more than 700,000 Americans.