ATLANTA - Drug enforcement agents are ramping up efforts to get fake fentanyl-laced pills off the streets in the Atlanta metro area.
In one day alone, seized more than 9,000 fentanyl-laced pills and 2 kilograms of pure fentanyl in the Atlanta area last week.
It was part of a two-month crackdown on the extremely deadly drug. The DEA’s special agent in charge of the Atlanta division says the counterfeit pills have gotten harder to spot.
"The Mexican cartels have gotten so good at producing these pills, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between a real one a fake one," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Rob Murphy.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Rob Murphy says counterfeit pills containing fentanyl have gotten harder to spot.
Murphy said the fentanyl is by in large produced in China, shipped to Mexico, and smuggled across the border and into communities across the country.
DeAnne Turner’s brother, Gerald Gilbert, was just 28 when he took a pill earlier this year he thought was the prescription painkiller Xanax.
"It turned out to be fentanyl," Turner said. "He had such a good heart."
She said her brother collapsed in the middle of the family’s home in Paulding County moments after eating the pill.
Despite her dad’s best efforts, Gilbert died.
DeAnne Turner’s brother, Gerald Gilbert, was just 28 when he took a pill earlier this year he thought was the prescription painkiller Xanax. It turned out to be fentanyl. (FOX 5 Atlanta)
"If his story saves one life it’s worth it," Turner said. "Friday is his birthday. He would be 29 years old."
Special Agent Murphy says the cartels press the fentanyl into pills to look identical to prescription painkillers people use to get high, using industrial pill presses. He said sometimes his agents aren’t even able to tell them apart.
At the end of the day, Murphy said the money is the motive.
"They’re shipping it across our borders, they know it’s made from fentanyl but the profit potential is so high for them the cost is so low," he said.
For the first time in six years, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a Public Safety Alert to Americans last week to bring more light to the threat of what authorities call a "significant nationwide surge" in counterfeit pills that are "killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate."
"Illicit fentanyl was responsible for nearly three-quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020," said Deputy Attorney General Monaco.
More than 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been seized so far in 2021, a number officials say is more than all of 2019 and 2020 combined. Testing at the DEA labs had revealed a rise in pills that contain at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl, which is lethal.
According to officials, the pills are illegally made by criminal drug networks and designed to look like prescription opioid medications including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and more. The pills are usually sold online on social media platforms.
"The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine," said Anne Milgram, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before. In fact, DEA lab analyses reveal that two out of every five fake pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. DEA is focusing resources on taking down the violent drug traffickers causing the greatest harm and posing the greatest threat to the safety and health of Americans. Today, we are alerting the public to this danger so that people have the information they need to protect themselves and their children."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 93,000 people died of a drug overdose in the United States in 2020. Officials say the primary cause of the increase in deaths is fentanyl.