Tennessee health officials say overdoses are surging, and disguised fentanyl is to blame

More than one in 10 Americans use illegal drugs.

And sometimes, when people think they’re buying one drug, they end up with a deadly alternative: fentanyl.

“These pills mimic the color, shape and markings of popular pharmaceutical drugs like Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax and Adderall, which can fool the user into believing they are from a regulated pharmacy in the United States,” said Brett Pritts, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency during a press conference on Monday.

There were more than 93,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2020. It’s the deadliest on record. Nearly 60,000 of those deaths were related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Tennessee, officials are pointing to a growing number of counterfeit pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl, which contributed to a 50% increase in overdose deaths statewide in 2020.

The DEA seized about 9.5 million counterfeit pills this year, and 7 million of those pills contained fentanyl — which is more than the last two years combined.

Harm reduction advocates suggest making drug testing kits more widely available — which are currently illegal under Tennessee law — along with the anti-overdose drug naloxone.

In recent years, the Tennessee Department of Health has promoted and offered training for the use of naloxone, also known as Narcan.

“The bottom line is that naloxone saves lives. People are dying and we have the anecdote,” said Andrea Hancock, an overdose prevention specialist with STARS Nashville, a state-funded program that offers mental health programs to school-age children.

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