By Evan Perez, CNN Justice Correspondent
The Drug Enforcement Administration said Thursday it made 810 arrests and seized more than 1.8 million fake pills during a two-month sweep to stem the flow of counterfeit medications containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The lethal tablets are fueling a surge in US drug-overdose deaths in recent years, and largely are trafficked from Mexico, where drug cartels produce the tablets from precursor chemicals imported from China, top US officials said at a news conference Thursday.
“Illicit fentanyl was responsible for nearly three quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at Justice Department headquarters.
“The pervasiveness of these illicit drugs, and the fatal overdoses that too often result, is a problem that cuts across America from small towns to big cities and everything in between.”
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said the agency is working to shut wide distribution networks selling tablets that look like name-brand prescription medications such as Xanax and Percocet.
“DEA laboratory testing reveals that today, four out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose (2 milligrams),” the agency said in a news release.
Milgram said the DEA has never seen a higher lethality rate.
The fake pills seized were capable of killing more than 700,000 people, she said.
During the sweep, the DEA also seized enough powder to make tens of millions of pills, more than 4,000 kilograms of methamphetamine and more than 650 kilograms of cocaine.
The agency seized more than 9.5 million fake tablets last year, a 430% increase over 2019.
Milgram said the pills are widely available on social media platforms as well as on the streets an issue that she said social media companies need to address.
Milgram said she raised the issue with Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero during a meeting this week, asking to work with Mexican law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem.
Earlier this week the DEA issued a public safety alert about a sharp increase of fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine. It was the first such alert issued by the DEA in six years.
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