At least four people have overdosed, one of them fatally, after taking counterfeit prescription pills circulating on the west side of Pasco County, sheriff’s deputies there said Tuesday.
The pills — whiteish circles stamped with an "M" and “30″ — look like 30-milligram tablets of oxycodone, the addictive opioid found in prescription pain relievers such as Percocet and Oxycontin. Instead, deputies said, they contain lethal doses of fentanyl, the powerful opioid that’s caused accidental overdose spikes among heroin users across the country over the past several years.
The pills are being sold in the Hudson and Holiday areas, deputies said. In a Facebook post, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office reminded readers to only take prescription medications as ordered by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration formally issued a public warning about such pills in November, with a press release asserting that phony pills kill thousands of people per year in the U.S. According to that press release, of a sample of tablets seized across the nation in early 2019, more than a quarter contained possibly lethal doses of fentanyl. In February 2019, authorities said they seized 20,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills, suspected of containing fentanyl, during two investigations in New York.
In just the past few weeks, though, media outlets across the country have reported on overdose spikes attributed to similar counterfeit pills.
In Williamson County, just north of Austin, Texas, officials reported a “five-fold increase” in overdoses during the first two weeks of April, with fifteen people overdosing on counterfeit oxycodone. Around the same time, the Alaska Department of Public Safety attributed “several overdoses” in the span of a week to the pills. Also in April, overdose deaths spiked in Santa Clara County, California, and a man was charged with murder after prosecutors said he sold counterfeit Percocet — actually fentanyl — to a teenage couple, one of whom died after taking it.