A South Carolina resident received a 14-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in October 2018 to drug conspiracy and money laundering, according to The State. Eric Hughes admitted to using the Internet to order raw materials from China to make counterfeit prescription drugs. Hughes and his associates rented vacation homes and used them as clandestine drug labs. Utilizing a pill press, members of this conspiracy manufactured counterfeit versions of Xanax and opioid pills. Previous PSM coverage from July 2018 on this case can be read here.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Hughes used alprazolam and U-47700 to manufacture counterfeit pills. U-47700 is a synthetic opioid that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) labeled as a Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act as of November 14, 2016. The pill press, which this drug ring used to make approximately 500,000 fake pills each month, distributed drug residue throughout the rented homes they used, leaving the properties contaminated. Homeowners of a Tybee Island, Georgia beach house needed to spend $213,000 to have their property professionally cleaned to make it habitable again.
Some dealers in South Carolina received pills to sell locally. Using the vendor name of “Genius Bar,” Hughes shipped pills by the thousands at a time to customers across the United States, accepting payment via a cryptocurrency. The U.S. Marshall’s office seized and sold approximately 150 bitcoins from Hughes that had a value of $1 million. Agents from the DEA investigated this case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May prosecuted this case for the DOJ.
Despite Hughes’ conviction, other counterfeit pill threats to South Carolina remain. WPDE ABC 15 reported that police issued a warning about counterfeit prescription pills such as OxyContin and Xanax made with fentanyl being found in Myrtle Beach. An undercover officer stated that “It’s deceptively bad. It’s extremely dangerous because of the size and how small of quantity it takes for someone to overdose and potentially die. South Carolina is one of the 46 states in which PSM has documented the presence of counterfeit fentanyl pills and one of 30 states where someone had died after taking one of these pills.