May 23, 2022: “ISO” found in DC-area counterfeit pills, says DEA

The DEA found counterfeit pills made with isotonitazene in the DC-area. The drug doesn't show up on fentanyl test strips. CBP in Louisville, Kentucky seized thousands of illegally imported sildenafil pills. A new report pins drug resistant malaria in Uganda on fake medicines. Police in Zimbabwe bust an illegal prescription drug ring. Vietnam sentences a former health minister over counterfeit medicine sales. Finally, counterfeit prescription pills made with fentanyl or methamphetamine made the news in 15 states.

The DEA reported that counterfeit pills made with isotonitazene (sometimes called ISO) have been found in the Washington, D.C. area. This discovery is especially concerning because ISO can’t be detected by fentanyl test strips.

Customs and Border Protection officers in Louisville, Kentucky intercepted 1,000 blister packs of illegally imported sildenafil in a shipment from the United Kingdom that was headed to a residence in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Michigan State University Professor John B. Kaneene reports that because of the prevalence of counterfeit and substandard drugs in Uganda, 30 percent of the country’s malaria cases are resistant to medication.

Fake hydromorphone pills made with ISO seized in Halifax and Saint John, Canada in 2020 (Saint John Police Force)

The Zimbabwe Republic Police arrested three citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one Tanzanian in Beitbridge for possession of illegal pharmaceutical drugs, among them analgesics, antibiotics and antihistamines. A related raid earlier this month involved the arrest of 34 suspects and the seizure of codeine cough syrup.

Vietnam’s former Deputy Health Minister Truong Quoc Cuong received a four-year sentence for licensing the sale of seven different kinds of counterfeit medicine labeled as Health 2000 Canada and failing to recall the drugs when he received information that they might not be genuine. ​​

Counterfeit pills across the country

In the Pacific West

A federal judge in California sentenced Stephen Walter, one of the men that supplied the counterfeit pills made with fentanyl that killed rapper Mac Miller, to over 17 years in prison.

A bus driver and campus security guard at a special needs school in Riverside, California were charged with allegedly selling fentanyl pills to students. Officers report that they found more than 100 pills in her on-campus home.

A New York Times article about teenagers and young adults buying fake prescription pills made with fentanyl on social media platforms opened with the story of Kade Webb, cousin of San Francisco Giants pitcher Logan Webb, who died in Roseville, California in December 2021 after taking a counterfeit Percocet. Webb's mother, Elizabeth Dillender and other bereaved parents, Laura Didier, Wendy Plunk, Ed and Mary Ternan were quoted in the piece.

Police in Eugene, Oregon recovered 11,000 suspected fentanyl pills and other drugs on Tuesday. They report that it is the largest fentanyl raid in the department's history.

Snapchat has become a frequent source for fake pills, but platforms like Facebook are also hosting dealers. Watch our May 11 video to learn more.

A Seattle, Washington man was arraigned on charges that in 2020 and 2021 he ordered at least 130,000 counterfeit pills from "TheBenzoBoys," a St. Louis, Missouri dark web vendor that made and sold fake Xanax.

In the Mountain West

Four Casper, Wyoming residents were charged with running a fentanyl pill distribution ring that allegedly led to at least one poisoning and potentially a death. Authorities seized more than 1,000 pills during the course of the investigation.

In the Midwest

Teresa Coppola shared the story of her 19-year-old son, Logan Graves, who died of fentanyl poisoning in Wichita, Kansas on January 19, 2021 after taking a counterfeit Percocet pill.

The DEA launched a campaign called "Operation Engage" in Kalamazoo, Michigan because the city has shown a rapid increase in illicit opioid use in the form of counterfeit pills.

​​Two 20-year-olds were charged in the fentanyl poisoning death of a 19-year-old New London, Minnesota resident last month. Officers found 1,600 counterfeit pills in the home of one of those charged.

The search of a residence in West Portsmouth, Ohio yielded a pill press, methamphetamine, fentanyl, and cocaine.

In the Northeast

Lowell, Massachusetts resident Vimoon Sortsoy received a five-year prison sentence for distributing counterfeit Adderall pills that contained methamphetamine. Sortsoy sold hundreds of the counterfeit pills to undercover law enforcement in 2019 and 2020.

34-year-old Ernest Johnson of Salem, Massachusetts, who was indicted with three co-conspirators for his role in a manufacturing and distribution ring that supplied Massachusetts’ North Shore with fentanyl pills, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

A 23-year-old Cambridge, Massachusetts man is facing drug charges for selling cocaine to an undercover officer, and for distributing counterfeit Percocet pills containing fentanyl.

In the South

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) West Palm Beach, Florida division urged parents to make sure their kids understand that taking pills that weren’t prescribed to them means risking their lives.

Authorities in Crisp County, Georgia reported that law enforcement had seized 10,000 counterfeit pills made with fentanyl during a traffic stop in early April, and issued a warning that fentanyl was killing residents.

In North Carolina, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office seized more than 1,000 fentanyl pills after a months-long investigation. The county lost nine residents to counterfeit oxycodone pills made with fentanyl in 2021.

A 26-year-old was charged with felony murder for allegedly selling 30-year-old Sequoyah County, Oklahoma resident Gavin Kemper the fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone that killed him on October. 27, 2021. Investigators say the purchase was negotiated on Facebook Messenger.

Oklahoma City Police arrested a man after they found cocaine, ecstasy and more than 200 fentanyl pills in his apartment on May 11.

Fitzgerald Antonio McDuffie received a 20-year prison sentence for distributing drugs—including fake prescription pills made with fentanyl—in Greenwood, South Carolina.

In Texas, Austin-Travis County Health Authority announced that Travis County has become one of the top five counties in the state for opioid-related emergency calls, largely because of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills.

Police in Wichita Falls, Texas warned the public about an increase in fentanyl-laced pills  in the area.