Sept. 6, 2023 – More than 90% of the counterfeit drugs contained the extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has driven total US overdose deaths to more than 100,000 a year. Other fake pills contained illicit benzodiazepines, which are used in the Xanax, or a combination of the two.

Fentanyl is frequently laced into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to boost their power and value without the user knowing. But because as little as 2mg of the drug can kill a person, it is easy to overdose.

Many who buy counterfeit pills were seeking legitimate prescription drugs in an effort to avoid fentanyl, which claims nearly 200 lives a day.

The CDC said fake prescription pills accounted for nearly 5% of deaths over the period studied, although that rose to nearly 15% in the western US. The agency said demand for fake opioid painkillers was highest in the west of the US, while half of deaths in the south were from counterfeit versions of the Xanax.

The CDC noted that those who died from fake pills “more often were younger, Hispanic, and had prescription drug misuse history” compared with those killed by overdoses in other circumstances.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns that six out of 10 counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose of the drug. The agency, which is running a One Pill Can Kill campaign to highlight the dangers of buying drugs on the black market, said that seizures of the fake tablets have escalated from 20m in 2021 to 46m so far this year.