On Oct. 26, 2021, officials for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration put out a bulletin about the results of a wide-ranging drug sting operation, concerning the online sale of “fake” pharmaceutical pills, many of which were laced with lethal drugs, including fentanyl. More than 150 suspects worldwide were arrested, including 65 Americans.
Besides the nearly 2 million fentanyl-laced pills confiscated in the U.S., the 10-month investigation also confiscated nearly $32 million in cash, 45 firearms and an estimated 2 million more lethal doses of fentanyl, in the form of counterfeit prescription pills, overseas.
During a briefing at the Justice Department, Lisa Monaco, the U.S. Deputy Attorney General, announced “Operation Dark HunTor prevented countless lives from being lost to this dangerous trade in illicit and counterfeit drugs, because one pill can kill.”
In describing how some aspects of the drug peddling business operated, Monaco said agents discovered home-bound drug making businesses were using special presses to produce pills fashioned to look like specific prescription medications.
part of a flood of fake medications driving record overdose deaths across the nation.
Ann Milgram, Drug Enforcement Administration chief, joined Monaco at the briefing, adding the pills were recovered in just the past two months as part of a federal crackdown intended to blunt a “national emergency.”
Before the success of this drug operation, DEA offiicials reported 9.5 million fake pills had been seized thus far in 2021, which is more than the last two years combined. In addition, last year in the U.S. over 93,000 people died from a drug overdose, which surpasses any previous yearly death total.
One of the key factors making this latest drug-dealing trend so dangerous is that the fake pills are designed to look exactly like prescription medications — in color, size and markings – i.e., so as to appear identical to prescription opioid medications like Xanax, Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycontin. Most of the makeshift operations are reported to be based in Mexico, while the primary chemical components have been traced to China. Counterfeit pills purchased online or through social media websites, according to the DEA, pose a serious public health and safety hazard.
DEA officials warned the number of fake pills containing deadly fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019, and the dangers presented by the counterfeit pills were the subject of a public safety announcement issued earlier this week by the DEA, the first such bulletin in six years.
Monaco said the official notice was made to emphasize the “significant nationwide surge in counterfeit pills that are mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs, deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, and are killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate.”
A USA Today report by Asha Gilbert (9/28/21) noted a significant number of the fake pills contained a deadly dose of at least two milligrams of fentanyl, per the warning issued by the DEA, adding “a deadly dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.”
Milgram added, “Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid—100 times more powerful than morphine—believed to be a driving cause of the increase in overdose deaths. According to CDC data, there were over 93,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020, which is 20,000 more drug-overdose deaths than in the previous year.
Lab analysis performed by the DEA has found confiscated pills range from .02 milligrams to 5.1 milligrams of fentanyl per tablet, with 26% of the counterfeit pills tested containing a lethal dose of fentanyl.
The alert put out by the DEA is to inform people that the enormous rise in drug overdose deaths is associated with fake pills containing lethal levels of fentanyl and other dangerous or addictive drugs. The public is being urged to purchase all prescription drugs solely from state-licensed pharmacies that are located in the United States.
 Johnson, Kevin, “Darknet Drug Operation Nets 150 Suspects, $32 million in cash, 4 million lethal fentanyl doses.” USA Today. 10/27/21
 Johnson, Kevin. “A National Emergency’: 1.8 million Counterfeit Pills Seized, Flood of Fake Meds Driving Record Overdose Deaths.” USA Today. 9/30/21
 Gilbert, Asha C. “DEA Issues Rare Warning on Counterfeit Pills Containing ‘Lethal Doses’ of Fentanyl.” USA Today.9/28/21
 “DEA Issues Warning Over Counterfeit Pills.” DEA Press Release. 5/21/21.