Tennessee Officials: Street Dealers Are Selling Deadly Imposter Oxycodone

By Keri Blakinger 03/02/16

Health officials in Tennessee say that buying painkillers on the street is like playing Russian roulette.

Tennessee Officials: Street Dealers Are Selling Deadly Imposter Oxycodone
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A major increase in counterfeit prescription drugs prompted Tennessee officials to issue a warning to the public on Monday. Authorities are reporting that they’ve found over two dozen instances of painkillers being sold on the street as weaker drugs. Specifically, dealers have been hocking pills containing fentanyl as oxycodone.

Officials in San Francisco have come across something similar. Last summer, a number of overdoses were attributed to fake Xanax containing fentanyl, according to the Associated Press.

In Ohio, meanwhile, feds collared a man with more than 900 fentanyl pills—all marked oxycodone. 

This isn’t just confined to the U.S. Canada has also issued warnings about lookalike oxycodone that actually contain fentanyl.

The Cuyahoga County medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Gilson, said that lookalike pills were probably to blame for some of the 19 overdose deaths in the county during the month of January alone. 

"People might otherwise say, 'I know I can abuse this much of oxycodone,' and they may be in for a really, really bad surprise when they find out that's fentanyl and not oxycodone," he said.

Fentanyl is somewhere around 25 to 40 times stronger than heroin and is usually prescribed in the form of a skin patch, but it’s also produced illegally in Mexico. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl-related overdoses were responsible for more than 700 deaths between late 2013 and early 2015. 

While it’s already been reported that fentanyl-tainted heroin has been responsible for overdose deaths, the concerns about pills containing fentanyl could raise concerns for a slightly different set of users. 

"The fact that fentanyl has been found in this form should hopefully make people nervous that do abuse these types of opiate pills, that they could be getting their hands on something even more lethal," said DEA spokesman Rich Isaacson.

But a spate of overdoses doesn’t necessarily decrease a user’s willingness to consume a given drug. Carole Rendon, acting U.S. attorney in Cleveland, explained that it can actually have the opposite effect. 

"When there is an overdose death, users do tend to flock to that drug dealer, because they think that he or she must have incredibly potent either heroin or fentanyl or a combination thereof," said Rendon.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.