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U.S. Attorney warns fake prescription drugs can be fatal

Pressed Pills.jpg
Drug Enforcement Administration
These are counterfeit oxycodone tablets. The DEA says four out of 10 fake prescription pills contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl.

U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh is reminding residents of 52 counties and seven cities in the western district of Virginia that it’s easy to get addicted to opioid drugs, benzodiazepines like Xanax or stimulants like Adderall – even if they’re prescribed by a doctor.

“I know this personally. I’ve had family members who have been addicted to the use of prescription opioids, and I’ve seen first hand how difficult it is to be able to fight and successfully move on from that addiction.”

And, he warns, there’s a new danger out there – pills that look just like drugs available by prescription: Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax or Adderall. You can buy them online, and your order might come in the mail.

“The consumer thinks there is some sort of legitimacy that accompanies that, because it is in a pill form, and these counterfeit pressed pills are anything but," Kavanaugh explains. "In fact, we’re seeing a large amount of them containing fentanyl and containing enough fentanyl to kill somebody.”

He notes that 80,000 people die each year in this country from a drug overdose.

“If you think about the Virginia Tech football stadium and the UVA basketball stadium combined, we’re losing that many people each year to the abuse and overdose deaths of prescription opioids alone.”

The epidemic is no longer confined to coal country. It’s all over this state and the nation, and fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death in people 18-45 years of age. Kavanaugh says he’s not out to prosecute people addicted to fentanyl or methamphetamine, but he’s going after dealers, and the legal penalties for selling fake pressed pills can be steep.

“If you distribute one of those pills and it kills another person, you’re looking at a 20-year mandatory minimum in the federal system. We are seeing a lot of those overdose cases in high schools and colleges.”

Which is why he’s pleading with the parents of teenagers and young adults for help.

“You have to please have a conversation with your children and have a conversation with your friends and colleagues who are also parents as well. Let them know the dangers of these pressed pills, and the dangers in taking any pill from someone who is not a doctor.”

You’ll find plenty of information on the subject on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website. Just search under One Pill Can Kill.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.