‘One pill can kill’: DEA warns counterfeit pills claiming lives across Pennsylvania, country

It has taken so many lives in our area and across the country.

We’re talking about fentanyl, the painkiller that’s 50 times more powerful than morphine.

Part of the problem? Its victims often don’t know they’re taking it because drug traffickers disguise it as a different medication.

Inside an evidence warehouse in an undisclosed location, where cameras have never been allowed before, is where the federal drug enforcement agency takes seized counterfeit pills and the machines that make them.

The crew doing the decontamination wears hazmat suits.

“Adderall pills, Xanax pills, painkillers. And what it is, is really just fentanyl,” said Special Agent in Charge Brian Boyle. “You could be a pharmacist, you could be a doctor, you look at these pills, you can’t tell the difference.”

The machines can also press fentanyl powder bricks that cartels market with other popular logos and anything that sells.

Agents showed off around 11,000 fake pressed pills seized in Massachusetts in October in one bust, all stamped to look like oxycodone.

“The scary part is the overdoses. People are dying and it could be anybody. It could happen to you. It could happen to me. You know, just one pill can kill now,” Boyle said.

“My son Cameron, age 27, died of a fentanyl poisoning in 2018 when he took an illicit pill that he thought was OxyContin,” said Fiona Firine.

Firine’s son Cameron died in 2018, like so many in our area and up and down the Northeast.

The Connecticut mom says her son battled substance abuse disorder since the age of 14, when a doctor prescribed him OxyContin for a sports-related knee injury.

For Cameron, it was a recurring disease.

“It was St Patrick’s weekend, he asked somebody he knew and trusted for OxyContin,” Firine explained.

But the pill he got from a friend was a fake.

“So the dosage in Cameron’s pill was 11,000 micrograms. So what we were told is that’s 9000 micrograms above the absolute death level,” Firine said. “He didn’t have a prayer. He didn’t have a prayer.”

The DEA reports in 2021, 107,622 people died from a drug overdose in the United States — 66% of those were attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Chemicals to create the fentanyl are coming from China to Mexico, where cartels are producing it, and then it’s coming to the United States in powder form or already pressed pills.

“I think the biggest message is if you don’t get that pill from a doctor or a licensed pharmacy, then it could kill you,” Boyle said.

Fiona and her family understand that message on a painfully personal level.

“People are looking at it through stigma, through the wall of stigma. So they’re making this assumption on lifestyle and they’re not understanding that people are not knowing what they’re doing,” she said.

Fentanyl has become such a problem here in our area. We comb through the medical examiner’s reports each day.

In one two-day stretch in October, eight people died, with the manner of death listed as fentanyl poisoning.

Every one of them had so much more life to live.

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