Four Counterfeit Drug Incidents in Arizona Highlight Risks of Fake Pills

Click here to read about other counterfeit medicine incidents in Arizona

In the span of merely a handful of weeks, news reports coming in from Arizona show that the local, state, and federal law enforcement continue their fight to keep fentanyl and counterfeit pills made with fentanyl from harming the citizens of The Grand Canyon State. The Arizona Daily Star reported on a January 15, 2019 traffic stop by Pima County Sheriff’s deputies that led to the seizing of narcotics two days later valued at over $400,000. Included in that haul were 10,000 fentanyl pills.

Just over a week later, KTVK shared a story of Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers pulling over two men in Phoenix and finding 1,500 fake fentanyl pills on the person of one of the people in the truck. Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two women involved in the sale of counterfeit fentanyl pills out of the gas station where one of the women worked, according to KGUN9-TV. In a public warning posted on the Facebook page for Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Mark Lamb warned the public that “we are really starting to see a rise in the number of fentanyl pills being recovered.” Gesturing to a single fentanyl pill laying on an envelope, Lamb said, “That is an extremely dangerous, dangerous pill.”

Sadly, that message came too late for a 15-year-old in Yuma who suffered a non-fatal overdose after ingesting what is believed to have been a counterfeit oxycodone pill that contained fentanyl. KYMA in Yuma reported that the student overdosed around 8:48 AM and that the Yuma Fire Department administered naloxone. After the teen regained consciousness, first responders transported them to the Yuma Regional Medical Center for further treatment. The Yuma Police Department stated that the pill resembled the types of pills that recently caused overdoses in San Luis.

On January 26, 2019, officers with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection made the largest fentanyl bust ever at the U.S. port of entry at Nogales. According to The Arizona Republic, officers found 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of methamphetamine in a secret compartment of a tractor-trailer truck bringing cucumbers across the border. According to the criminal complaint, the driver of the truck – Juan Antonio Torres-Barraza – told agents he was unaware of the drugs concealed in the hidden compartment. Paperwork listed PickleMex, LLC. as the registered shipper, consignee, and importer, Torres-Barraza said Logistic TEO was the company that he was driving the load for. Before being arrested, Rivas Produces in Rio Rico was where the shipment was headed. The estimated street value of the drugs was $4.6 million. Torres-Barraza said his pay for driving the load across the border was $37.

Although Torres-Barraza’s boss told him to where to pick up this load, the criminal complaint said that a well-dressed man handed the trailer off. Only Torres-Barraza has been charged, but according to Juan Mariscal, Homeland Security Investigations’ assistant special agent in charge for Nogales, “However, my agents are continuing with the investigation.”

If you would like to read about other counterfeit medicine incidents from The Grand Canyon State, please read PSM’s 2018 Arizona Infosheet.