July 19, 2021: CDC says U.S. drug deaths up almost 30%

The Centers for Disease Control released tragic preliminary statistics that show that drug deaths rose almost 30 percent last year, from 70,600 in 2019 to 93,000 in 2020. Approximately 57,000 of those fatalities were the result of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

CDC statistics do not distinguish pill poisonings within these deaths, but fake pill deaths are certainly represented: 63 Arizona teens died after taking counterfeit pills in 2020; the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is investigating almost two dozen deaths over the last 18 months; and officials issued warnings about fentanyl pills in Nevada, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Missouri.  

Watch this week's news of the week.

Other national news

A new survey commissioned by the ASOP Global Foundation polled 1500 Americans to measure their perceptions and use of online pharmacies. Among the findings: 45% of respondents believed that all websites offering healthcare services or prescription medications on the internet have been approved by the FDA or state regulators. Learn more here.

The nonprofit Song for Charlie launched "One Pill Can Kill," a public awareness campaign in collaboration with Snap.com about the dangers of fentanyl pills. PSAs will run on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook over the next year.

Pacific Western States


The criminal complaint filed against Napa, California's Juli Mazi, ND.

A California doctor pleaded guilty to illegal importation for trying to smuggle over 26 lbs of hydroxychloroquine mislabeled as “yam extract” into the US. Jennings Ryan Staley planned to sell the powder in fake COVID-19 “treatment kits.”

Sergey Tkachuk of North Highlands, California received a five-year federal prison sentence for fentanyl distribution. In March 2016 Tkachuk sold 16 Norco pills to a person who subsequently died of fentanyl poisoning. Court documents say that Tkachuk did not know that the pills were counterfeit.

A homeopathic doctor in Napa, California was charged with fraud after she allegedly sold patients “homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets” that she fraudulently claimed protect them from COVID-19, and offered them falsified vaccination cards indicating that they had received the Moderna vaccine.

Detectives in Redmond, Oregon seized fake oxycodone made with fentanyl and arrested a Portland man who was allegedly selling the pills in the area.

On Tuesday, Oregon State Police seized meth and more than a pound of suspected fentanyl pills during a traffic stop on Highway 97 in Deschutes County.

Mountain Western States

Source: Yavapai, Arizona Sheriff's Office, July 2021

Jonathon “Luke” Paz, Drew Wilson Crandall, Alexandrya Marie Tonge, Katherine Lauren Anne Bustin, Mario Anthony Noble, Sean Michael Gygi, and Ana “Gabby” Noriega—received sentences ranging from 30 to 120 months for working with Utah-based counterfeit pill kingpin Aaron Shamo to distribute more than half a million fake opioid painkillers and Xanax pills on the dark web. Shamo received a life sentence in October 2020..   

Officers in Moab, Utah seized counterfeit oxycodone that contained fentanyl during a traffic stop. 

A Utah pharmacist lost his license and will pay a $2,000 fine after he gave six people COVID-19 vaccination cards without administering the vaccine.

K9 deputies in Yavapai County found 28,000 fentanyl pills and large quantities of packaged methamphetamine in a toolbox during a traffic stop near Cordes Junction, Arizona. 

After 63 teen poisoning deaths from fentanyl pills in 2020, Arizona authorities are urging parents and caregivers to talk with their kids about the threat. 

The Las Vegas, Nevada Drug Enforcement Administration office reported that it had seized 50,000 counterfeit hydrocodone pills made with fentanyl in the last week.

Police in Washoe County, Nevada arrested two men who sold nearly 200 fake prescription pills made with fentanyl to undercover detectives.

After they killed an Albuquerque resident in a shootout on Wednesday, FBI agents searched his home and found unknown pills and a pill press

Midwestern and Northeastern States

A Williston, North Dakota resident was arrested on July 1, 2021 after police found more than 450 suspected fentanyl pills in a safe in his mother’s apartment.

Missouri resident Michelle Branch shared the story of her brother,  Craig Elazer, who died in St. Louis last September after he inadvertently took a fake Xanax made with fentanyl.

A federal jury in New Jersey convicted Beverly Hills, California resident Andrew Tablack on drug charges for manufacturing and selling hundreds of thousands of fentanyl analogue pills on the dark web in 2017.

Agents arrested a man in Johnstown, Pennsylvania after intercepting almost two pounds of fentanyl pills on their way to a home where he had allegedly agreed to pick them up in exchange for payment.

Police seized cocaine and counterfeit oxycodone made with fentanyl from a home in Clinton, Massachusetts.

Atlantic & central southern states

Cedrick Gabriel Brown of Midville, Georgia received a five-year prison sentence for manufacturing counterfeit prescription pills made with methamphetamine. A second defendant in the case, Telly Savalas Carswell, received a 14-year sentence in March.

A Gainesville, Florida man was arrested for allegedly manufacturing and selling counterfeit drugs, and possession of felony quantities of illicit drugs.

A 23-year-old Anadarko, Oklahoma man who was already facing drug trafficking charges has been accused of first-degree murder for selling the fentanyl pills that killed Colton Wright in January.

International news

Health department officials in Pakistan shut down a huge drug counterfeiting operation in Multan, Punjab.

400 boxes of suspected counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines were seized at the Tijuana International Airport in Mexico. A government official reported that shipping company employees in Jalisco, Michoacán, the State of Mexico and Sinaloa were being intimidated into shipping counterfeit medicines like these.

Black market COVID-19 vaccines seized in Tijuana, Mexico. (Source: El Imparcial)

PSM is keeping a steady eye on public reports of dangerous counterfeit drugs and other medical products. Check back for next week’s summary.