DEA warns deadly drugs made to look like prescription Xanax, OxyContin, Adderall being sold online

Deadly drugs made to look like prescription Xanax, OxyContin and Adderall are being sold to kids on social media apps, DEA Washington warns. Investigators have seized these drugs from people who did not know that they were fake. 

Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the DEA Washington Division issued a warning Thursday that drug dealers are marketing to children and teenagers through popular social media apps. They are selling drugs that look like prescription medication and delivering counterfeit pills to kids and young adults in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

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Law enforcement officials across the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have reported these counterfeit pills causing tragic overdose deaths across the region. These pills have been adopted by drug dealers, and buyers, for their simplicity and global reach, specifically after pandemic lockdowns, and the internet has become their primary marketing tool. 

Large drug trading websites like Dream Market or Silk Road have been shut down. However, social media has reactivated a new marketplace that is made up of thousands of small-time dealers. These dealers have been selling both large and small amounts of drugs to individuals online in local our communities.

This issue has become so pertinent in the D.C.-metropolitan area and surrounding states, that DEA Washington Division has been working with partners and organizations in the area to launch a summer awareness campaign. 

The campaign specifically targets the deadly counterfeit pills that kids, teens, and young adults are ordering online. SAC Jarod Forget says these sales often lure young people who use apps like Snapchat and Instagram to connect with dealers and order pills that they think are safe but oftentimes end up being deadly.

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"These cartels are marketing to our children, to young adult kids in our area. With every pill that slips through the cracks, more lives are lost," SAC Forget said. "Only one life lost – of our children, our family members, our neighbors – is one too many. We’re dedicated to educating the public about what’s going on and helping keep our area residents and families safe."

The DEA Washington Division has confiscated thousands of counterfeit pills over the past few months and laboratory tests have found over one in every four pills amounting to 26% have contained a deadly amount of fentanyl. These fake pills are loaded with the synthetic opioid fentanyl and are designed to look exactly like actual pharmaceuticals, which are flooding into the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. 

Kids, teenagers, and young adults are using apps on their phones to order these drugs. There have been a number of instances in just the past few weeks where teenagers will order pills online, go take a walk to pick them up, come right back in, go to their room, ingest a pill, and pass away shortly after.

The overdose crisis is not new, however, the dangers of these synthetic pills pose a great threat. Prescription medications like Xanax and OxyContin are among the most frequently abused pills, as many feel they are "safer" than harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. This misconception can be deadly on its own, but it is even deadlier now considering that many of the "prescription" pills being sold now are not what they appear.

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"We’re seeing that many of these pills are impossible to tell, on sight, if they are ‘real’ or ‘fake,’ and they are often found to contain deadly amounts of fentanyl," SAC Forget explains. "Only two milligrams of fentanyl is enough to cause an overdose, and what these cartels are selling to our kids, without any regard for a child’s life, is unfathomable."

The DEA says it’s working with social media companies and on the DarkWeb to help catch those using these who are selling these deadly drugs. SAC Forget says encourages residents to stay connected with their children – learning more, having conversations about the dangers of these drugs, and keeping watch of their habits and interactions on- and off-line. Watch for changes in behavior and question any quick trips to meet a friend or go outside the home.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or to learn more about how to speak with children about the issue, please check out SAMHSA’s "Talk. They Hear You" resources or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).