State warns of dangers of counterfeit pills

State law enforcement and health officials warned the public Monday of the rising dangers from counterfeit pills.

These pills look identical to prescription drugs such as Xanax and oxycodone. However, they are often laced with dangerous substances such as fentanyl.

“One pill can kill,” Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, said in a news conference Monday morning. “Do not take pills that were not prescribed to you from your provider and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist.”

In 2020, 3,032 Tennesseans died from overdoses, a 45% increase from 2019, according to Piercey. This increase was larger than the national increase of 30%.

Piercey said the state has been investigating overdose outbreaks similar to the way it investigates an outbreak of a virus. If multiple overdoses are happening in the same area, state officials begin contact tracing to find the source. Many times, the overdoses stem from a “bad batch” of pills.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain bad batches led to an increase in overdose deaths, Piercey said.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said counterfeit pill dealers are profiting from other people’s addictions.

“Another possibility is that adversarial nation-state actors may also be using these deadly fakes as a way to intentionally kill Americans,” Rausch said.

Later, he explained that the majority of illegal fentanyl entering the country comes from nation-state actors in China who are partnering with cartels in Mexico and other nations.

“We have direct evidence in investigations that we have done that puts that together,” Rausch said.

TBI forensic scientists have estimated that half of the oxycodone pills taken as evidence do not contain oxycodone, Rausch said.

“If you’re buying pills on the street in our state, you’re gambling with your life,” he said.

The TBI has task forces across the state that investigate who provides the public with counterfeit drugs.

Tommy Farmer, from the TBI’s Dangerous Drugs Task Force, demonstrated some of the tech the TBI uses to safely investigate overdoses.

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