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Police Seizures of Pills With Fentanyl Have Skyrocketed
  • Posted May 13, 2024

Police Seizures of Pills With Fentanyl Have Skyrocketed

Police seizures of illicit fentanyl pills have soared in recent years, a new study has found.

The number of pills containing fentanyl seized by law enforcement was 2,300 times greater in 2023 than in 2017 – more than 115 million pills, compared to just under 50,000.

What's more, pills represented 49% of illicit fentanyl seizures in 2023, compared to 10% in 2017.

Researchers also found a significant increase in the number and weight of powder seizures containing fentanyl during the same period.

“Fentanyl has continued to infiltrate the drug supply in communities across the United States and it is a very dangerous time to use drugs, even just occasionally,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Illicit pills are made to look identical to real prescription pills, but can actually contain fentanyl,” Volkow said in a news release. “It is urgently important that people know that any pills given to someone by a friend, purchased on social media, or received from any source other than a pharmacy could be potentially deadly – even after a single ingestion.”

For this study, researchers analyzed data collected through a grant program aimed at countering the illicit drug market.

Although seizures don't reflect overall use of illicit drugs, they are an indicator of their availability, researchers said.

The Western U.S. now accounts for most law enforcement seizures of fentanyl overall, as well as total weight of fentanyl seized, researchers said.

The proportion of fentanyl pill seizures also was highest in the West, with nearly 78% of fentanyl seized there found in pill form, results show.

More than 107,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2022, and 75% of those deaths involved an opioid, researchers said.

Officials attribute the rise in these deaths largely to fentanyl, which is highly potent, cheaply made and easily transported.

Fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than heroin, and a lethal dose can be as small as two milligrams, researchers said.

“Availability of illicit fentanyl is continuing to skyrocket in the U.S., and the influx of fentanyl-containing pills is particularly alarming,” lead researcher Joseph Palamar, an associate professor of population health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City, said in a news release.

Many people take illicit drugs not knowing if they contain fentanyl, researchers said. These pills often are made to resemble prescription medications like oxycodone or benzodiazepines, but really contain fentanyl.

“Public health efforts are needed to help prevent these pills from falling into the hands of young people, and to help prevent overdose among people taking pills that unsuspectingly contain fentanyl,” Palamar said.

The new study was published May 13 in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about fentanyl.

SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse, news release, May 13, 2024

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