In a unified message today, the leaders of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services issued a warning to the public about an increase in the prevalence of counterfeit prescription drugs in Tennessee.
“TBI Drug Agents and Forensic Scientists are discovering that pills being sold on the street as Percocet are actually fake, but with very dangerous consequences. More and more, we are seeing drugs being made in clandestine labs that contain fentanyl,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “We need to make the public abundantly clear that this is a life-threatening danger.”
“Drug dealers are preying on citizens of our state who have drug addictions,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said. “Fake pills containing fentanyl are a new, deadly twist to the drug challenge we face. The Governor’s Public Safety Action Plan addresses the drug challenge in its many parts. We need a sense of urgency.”
In recent months, approximately two dozen case submissions from counties across Tennessee have shared a common, concerning trend: Pills shaped, colored, and stamped to look like a particular type of prescription medication have proven to be something different in laboratory analysis.
For example, in May 2015, a Tennessee law enforcement agency recovered what appeared to be several 30mg pills of oxycodone during a traffic stop. Each was the same size and featured the signature A/215 stamp characteristic of oxycodone. However, laboratory analysis performed by TBI Forensic Scientists indicated the pills were counterfeit and did not contain oxycodone. Instead, they contained fentanyl, a painkiller 50 times as potent as heroin that can be deadly in high doses.
“When people sell fake pills appearing to be oxycodone but actually containing the more powerful pain medicine fentanyl, lives are at risk,” said Tennessee Department of Health Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. “Buying or using fake pills is unwise for many reasons, the most important of which is the possibility of death from overdose. We strongly advise those with dependence on pain pills to seek help, as addiction is a treatable disease. Family and friends of those with dependence should obtain naloxone, the overdose antidote now available in Tennessee.”
More recently, in late January, while executing a search warrant at a home in the 4600 block of Massa Road in Cookeville, authorities discovered approximately 300 pills stamped with markings characteristic of Percocet. However, laboratory analysis performed by TBI Forensic Scientists determined the pills instead contained fentanyl.
“If you buy a pill off the street, it’s like playing Russian roulette,” said Winchester Police Chief Dennis Young regarding the counterfeit prescription drugs. “You just don’t know what’s in it. Just one pill, or even half a pill, could be enough to kill you.”
The Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says there are resources available for those addicted to opioid-based drugs without having to satisfy their fix by purchasing drugs from street dealers. “These transactions with total strangers are resulting in serious drug overdoses and in some cases death,” says Commissioner E. Douglas Varney. “Individuals are putting themselves and those they care for at risk for a cheap high. If you or someone you care for is caught up in this spiral of addiction, please reach out for help from one of the many treatment centers across the state. To find substance use treatment resources across the state, call the Tennessee REDLINE anytime at 1-800-889-9789.”