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Authorities see surge in fake - and deadly - pharmaceuticals across Pacific Northwest

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

An alarming surge of fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl or meth has Oregon law enforcement on high alert. 

Regional DEA officials say there’s been a 275% increase in seizures of the counterfeit meds in the past year. Investigators say many are made in Mexico, then marketed online to look like legitimate pharmaceuticals.

Credit Eugene Police Dept.
Capsules that have been emptied and refilled with a white substance, Fentanyl. The refilled capsules can be identified by the white, powdery substance on the outside and the manner in which the capsule has been pressed together (the outer casing is abnormally expanded and, in some cases, cracked or damaged).

“They weren’t very common up until a year and a half ago, and now they’ve become the norm for overdose deaths in the area,” said Alex Speldrich, a patrol sergeant with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office.

“A little bit of fentanyl –we’re talking about just grams of salt-sized -  is actually enough to be fatal," continued Speldrich.   "It does not take very much for somebody to create that high effect as opposed to a traditional morphine or opiate like heroin.” 

The fake pills add to the local overdose problem as well. The Eugene Police Department says 441 overdose calls were logged in 2020. So far this year, there are already 407 calls.

The DEA Seattle Field Division (which includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska) says besides the distribution of fake and potentially deadly pharmaceuticals, drug trafficking is also inextricably linked to violence. 

"Twenty percent of DEA investigations in the Pacific Northwest result in the seizure of firearms," the Seattle DEA Field Office says in a press release. "and this year alone, DEA seized more than 2700 firearms in connection with drug trafficking investigations nationwide."

Credit Eugene Police Dept.
Firearms seized along with drugs laced with methamphetamines or fentanyl.

Copyright 2021, KLCC. 

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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