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Fentanyl pills are popping up in the US, threatening lives. What Congress does


Congress has passed a bill targeting the financial assets of fentanyl traffickers

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Counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl are flooding into the United States, a new study shows, raising the threat of overdose death nationwide.

However, in the Cincinnati area, fentanyl-tainted pills have seen a decline in the number of drugs seized analyzed by the Hamilton County Crime Laboratory. Still, they remain a deadly threat — especially for people who don’t have opioid addiction, experts say.

U.S. High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area agents seized 2,300 times more fentanyl-tainted pills in 2023 compared to 2017 — from nearly 50,000 in 2017 to more than 115 million pills in 2023, according to a study published Monday that was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Fentanyl pills rank strongly overall: the share of fentanyl pill seizures out of total fentanyl seizures represents 49% of illicit fentanyl seizures in 2023, up from 10% in 2017. The data was collected from the U.S. High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area organizations, including those in Ohio and Kentucky.

Experts say the pills, which are often unrecognizable as fake, pose a serious threat to people, including those who take pills only occasionally.

“There is evidence that a fairly large proportion of teen deaths from fentanyl are related to pill use,” said Joseph Palamar, lead author of the study and associate professor of public health at New York University. “I’m sure some of this is unintentional exposure.”

‘A very scary moment’: Overdose deaths among youth soared in 2020, so what’s next?

Fentanyl in pill form may be attractive to recreational drug users because they don’t have to inject the drug, Palamar said. They could also be tempting for students to take, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency warns, because they can be disguised as a variety of pills, including Adderall, popular among young people as a study and test-taking aid.

The pills are pressed to look just like a variety of prescription pills. The ones that appear to pose the greatest risk for unintentional fentanyl exposure are oxycodone, pressed as M30s, and alprazolam, which most people know as Xanax, Palamar said.

There is no way to tell how many drug busts will make a dent in fentanyl availability, according to Palamar, because there is so much fentanyl and fentanyl is “cheap to make” compared to other drugs. “We don’t really know if attacks help prevent deaths, but they are correlated.”

In 2022, more than 107,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses, 75% of which were due to opioids, including fentanyl.

Hamilton County is seeing a decline in counterfeit pills, but the threat is high

Hamilton County saw a dramatic drop in overdose deaths in 2023 and experienced a dramatic drop in the number of fentanyl pills seized.

That doesn’t mean people here are likely to escape the threat of the fake pills, said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, a coordinator with the Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition.

“The concern is that they could be tapping into a very different market that may not be seeking out illicit fentanyl for an addiction, but may instead be seeking medication for a different condition,” Synan said, “and inadvertently be exposed to fentanyl. “

Congress passes new bill to tackle illegal fentanyl supply chain, but leaves internet out of it

Congress has passed a new law in response to the increase in fentanyl pill seizures, according to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who co-sponsored the bill with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Brown visited Talbert House, a Cincinnati-based mental health and addiction treatment facility, on Monday to discuss the FEND Off Fentanyl Act.

“This bill is a response to that surge,” Brown said of FEND Off Fentanyl, which he said took just over a year to be written and land on President Joe Biden’s desk. “That’s why Congress took action relatively quickly.”

The law will authorize the U.S. Treasury Department to block the financial assets of criminal organizations responsible for trafficking in fentanyl and other illegal opioids.

“What I can do as a federal official is stop this stuff from even being made and take the profits out of it for these cartels that have profited off of people’s tragedies,” Brown said.

The Enquirer asked Brown if FEND Off Fentanyl would help prevent teens from purchasing pills containing fentanyl on the Internet, an area of ​​increasing concern to parents and doctors across the country. Brown said it doesn’t specifically address this issue, but the law would primarily help reduce the supply of the drug.