Tenn. (WJHL) – Overdose deaths are on the rise, and state health officials, alongside leaders within the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, are widely attributing that increase in deaths to an influx of fake prescription pills being sold on the street.
In late September, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public safety alert regarding the sharp increase in these counterfeit pills, and on Monday, several agencies joined together in Nashville to further touch on the dangers these pills pose.
TBI Director David Rausch led the conference as the first speaker, touching on the dangers of drug addiction and how these fake pills look alarmingly similar to the real ones.
“Counterfeit pills are created, usually overseas, to look like one thing, but they contain another substance and maybe a mix of chemicals, and in a troubling number of cases, they contain Fentanyl,” he said.
He said they’re primarily seeing counterfeit pills when it comes to Oxycodone and Xanax. Rausch said even trace amounts of Fentanyl found in these fake pills can be deadly.
“If you’re buying pills on the street in our state, you’re gambling with your life. Those making the pills don’t care about quality control, they only care about profiting from other people’s addictions,” said Rausch.
Rausch said the only way to stop this growing problem starts with targeting demand and that requires those battling addiction to take the right steps that could, in turn, save a life.
Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey with the Tennessee Department of Health was also in attendance stressing not only the dangers of these pills but the help available for those battling addiction throughout the state.
“In 2020, we lost 3,032 Tennesseans to deadly overdoses, and that is an alarming 45% increase from 2019 to 2020. That even exceeds the national increase of 30% in the same time period. There are recovery services all across this state and people waiting to help you and waiting to help you get into recovery,” said Piercey.
While the problem has gained attention at the state level, it’s something local law enforcement said they’ve been dealing with for years.
Carter County Sheriff’s Office Captain Mike Little said they’ve seen this problem on and off the past 3-4 years but have experienced a recent spike in the past 6-7 months.
“Tennessee has done a very good job taking the initiative and cracking down on prescription opioid abuse, but unfortunately that’s creating a black market for counterfeit pills which are readily obtainable on the street,” said Little.
He agrees with Rausch and said that not knowing what exactly is inside these pills being sold on the street is an incredibly dangerous gamble.
“It’s a Russian roulette game because you have no idea what’s in them and we typically see, relating to overdoses, high concentrations of Fentanyl inside the pills so obviously that creates an inherent danger,” said Little.
While the problem is pushing on, he said it’s a relief that attention is being brought to it at the state level. Little said that’s when you usually start to see state funding to combat the issue as well as a potential solution.
Dr. Piercey said ‘one pill can kill,’ and it’s a reminder she wants to stick with Tennesseeans while the state battles this epidemic. She, alongside other state officials, is urging the public to only consume pills prescribed by an actual legal physician.