Photo of Javier Peña, Steve Murphy and Aaron Graham

Javier Peña, Steve Murphy and Aaron Graham at PSM's 2019 Congressional Briefing

In Capitol Hill briefings sponsored by the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) on January 31, former and current law enforcement leaders sounded a warning over the increased flow of counterfeit drugs and lethal fentanyl into the United States, noting that international drug traffickers and crime syndicates see our nation as a lucrative market.


“Policymakers at all levels of government need to understand that this is a growing crisis that is taking lives and devastating communities,” said Dr. Marv Shepherd, PSM Board President. “Counterfeit medicines – many of which contain doses of fentanyl that can kill instantly – are leaving no part of our country untouched. Major cities and rural areas alike are experiencing devastating effects.”


Speakers at the Capitol Hill briefing included Keith Brown, deputy assistant administrator of the DEA; Daviess, County, Kentucky Sheriff Keith Cain, chairman of the National Sheriffs’ Association’s Drug Enforcement Committee; Samuel J. Louis, former deputy criminal chief of the Program Fraud Group for the Justice Department; Daniel Salter, executive director of the Atlanta-Carolinas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), a federal drug prohibition enforcement program; and Javier Peña and Steve Murphy, former DEA agents whose work inspired the Netflix series “Narcos.” Attendees also heard from individuals and family members who have been directly affected by counterfeit medications.


“It would be a huge mistake to underestimate the threat posed by counterfeit drugs,” said Peña. “These drug trafficking organizations see the United States as a profit center that is still largely untapped. We know that counterfeit pills are moving in large numbers—not only across our borders but also through ports of call and the mail service. Right now, we’re not winning this battle and the costs are already extraordinary and will just get worse.”


Murphy added, “Right now, we don’t have the resources or the strategies in place to deal with this crisis. It’s like trying to plug one hole in the levee and watching three more start spouting. Our governmental leaders need to get serious about stopping counterfeit drugs and fentanyl at each entry point or we’re going to see death tolls and costs to social services, health care and law enforcement skyrocket.”


Dr. Shepherd added that it is imperative for Congress to avoid making this problem worse. Legislation that would allow foreign drug importation would exacerbate the current struggle to keep counterfeit and illegal drugs out of the closed U.S. drug supply.


“As daunting a challenge as we face today, it can get so much worse if Congress legalizes even more avenues for counterfeit and dangerous drugs to find their way into consumer medicine cabinets,” he said.