Law enforcement seizures of pills containing fentanyl increased dramatically between 2018-2021 as per a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Proportions of total pills seized are found to be more than doubled, with pills representing over a quarter of illicit fentanyl seizures by the end of 2021. The study also found an increase in the number of fentanyl-containing powder seizures during this time.
‘Number of individual pills seized by law enforcement is found to be increased nearly 50-fold from the first quarter of 2018 to the last quarter of 2021.’
Nearly 106,000 people died from drug overdoses in the 12 months ending in October 2021. This rise is largely driven by illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
“An increase in illicit pills containing fentanyl points to a new and increasingly dangerous period in the United States. Pills are often taken or snorted by people who are more nave to drug use, and who have lower tolerances. When a pill is contaminated with fentanyl, as is now often the case, poisoning can easily occur,” says NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD.
“For the first time we can see this rapid rise in pills adulterated with fentanyl, which raises red flags for increasing risk of harm in a population that is possibly less experienced with opioids. We absolutely need more harm reduction strategies, such as naloxone distribution and fentanyl test strips, as well as widespread education about the risk of pills that are not coming from a pharmacy. The immediate message here is that pills illegally obtained can contain fentanyl,” says Joseph J. Palamar, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and co-investigator on the NIDA-funded National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS).