April 18, 2023: Buy safe kids’ medicine, even during shortages

This week: Shortages of pediatric amoxicillin underscore the need to buy from licensed U.S. pharmacies. The Justice Department indicted alleged Sinaloa cartel members for fentanyl trafficking. The White House declared xylazine mixed with fentanyl an emergent threat as law enforcement seized pills made of xylazine and fentanyl in Massachusetts. Another Canadian is being tried for Operation Denial. News about prosecutions, seizures and deaths relating to counterfeit prescription pills in 24 states.

National News:

Amoxicillin in shortage; Sinaloa cartel indictments; White House raises the alarm on fentanyl mixed with xylazine; another Operation Denial prosecution; Inslee signs "Tyler's Law" and parent advocates working in 6 states.


Amoxicillin in its liquid form, which is commonly prescribed to children, has been in shortage in the US since October 2022. 

Watch news about pill busts in New Haven and Wisconsin and catch up on counterfeit prescription medicines in Mexico.

Cases of strep throat have returned to pre-pandemic levels and the U.S. is seeing a shortage of liquid formulations of the antibiotics that have been a mainstay for treating small children with the infection. When drug shortages happen, it’s tempting to seek alternatives online, but 95 percent of online pharmacies aren’t safe; many are selling counterfeits. If the antibiotics you give your kids aren’t legitimate, they may not work, and they can cause antibiotic resistance.  If you buy prescription medicines online, verify that your source meets U.S. safety standards at safe.pharmacy.

On April 14 the Justice Department unsealed five indictments charging alleged leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel for trafficking fentanyl powder and pills in the United States. One of the indictments, USA v Salazar et al, focuses on the cartel’s global manufacturing, smuggling and sales, as well as money laundering operations that have yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in profits since 2014.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy identified fentanyl mixed with xylazine as an emerging threat after it was found in almost 25 percent of fentanyl powder the Drug Enforcement Administration seized in 2022. The drug, which is also increasingly found in fentanyl pills, does not respond to naloxone.

Learn how poorly regulated pill presses enable criminals to sell fake medicine.

Last week a federal court in Fargo, North Dakota began the trial of Marie Um, a Canadian woman who allegedly helped her boyfriend, Daniel Vivas-Ceron, run a 32-person fentanyl trafficking operation from prison. The scheme spanned three countries and distributed pills and powder that poisoned or killed people in five states. The case is part of Operation Denial, which was triggered by the death of a teenager in Grand Forks, North Dakota in January 2015. Learn more about Operation Denial with our video series.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed “Tyler’s Law,” which makes knowingly using or owning a pill press or capsule machine for the purpose of creating counterfeit pills a Class C felony. The bill is named for Tyler Lee Yates, who died in January 2022 after taking what he thought was a real Oxycontin pill.

Parent advocates in Hollywood and California’s Greater Los Angeles area; Minnesota; Rhode Island; South Carolina; Tennessee; and Fort Worth and Carrollton, Texas spoke about the deaths of their children from counterfeit pills. A mother in Carrollton, Texas, spoke to local press about her middle schooler, who was still in the hospital after taking a fake pill over a week ago.


Two dark net illicit pill dealers sentenced in Florida and Nebraska; defendants sentenced for counterfeit pill sales that led to deaths in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington. Convictions or sentencines in nine additional states.

A federal judge in Washington State sentenced 21-year-old Jonathan Rivera-Venegas of Ellensburg to 11 years for distributing fake prescription pills made with fentanyl that killed two people, one of whom was 16-year-old Mateo Quintero, in August 2021.

In Las Vegas, Edward Romero-Cordero was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for selling 32-year-old Shane Bowman counterfeit oxycodone pills made of fentanyl that killed him in February 2021.

Pensacola, Florida resident Jason C. Martinez received an eight-year sentence for making, packaging and shipping alprazolam (Xanax) pills to fill orders for dark web vendors between November 2020 and March 2022. Law enforcement turned up pill presses and pill counting machines, drug ledgers and other items during the investigation. Two additional defendants in this case were already sentenced.

A federal court in Nebraska sentenced Jamal D. Holdman of Desert Hot Springs, California to 65 months in prison after investigators found 21,000 pills, including prescription opioids, amphetamines and benzodiazepines, and fake oxycodone made with fentanyl in his home in June 2021. Holdman packaged and shipped prescription pills for co-conspirator Nicolas Decosta, who sold them on a dark net marketplace using the vendor name Norco_King. Decosta is scheduled to be sentenced in June 2023.

Jeffrey Lebron of Cheltenham, Pennsylvania was sentenced to up to nine years in state prison for delivering the counterfeit prescription pills made with fentanyl that killed Nathan Lauch in 2021.

Lyle Justin Schirm, a Portland, Oregon man who was caught with methamphetamine and equipment and supplies to make counterfeit Xanax pills in November 2020, received a 30-month prison sentence for shipping a handgun and ammunition to the United Kingdom and possessing a pound of methamphetamine.

PSM maintains news feeds about counterfeit drugs in every U.S. state. Catch up on what's happening in Nebraska, or find your own state here.

Kenneth James Hughes Jr. pleaded guilty to fentanyl distribution this week. He sold fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone that killed a Winchester, Virginia resident in October 2020.

People in Sacramento, California;  Richmond Hills, Georgia; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Raceland, Louisiana; Haverhill, Massachusetts; Omaha, Nebraska; Erie, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; Rapid City, South Dakota; Dallas, Texas; Gloucester, Virginia; Port Orchard and Spokane, Washington were also convicted or sentenced in drug trafficking cases involving fentanyl pills.


Hundreds of thousands of fentanyl and fentanyl-xylazine  pills seized in nine states.

A police dog named Quinn assisted law enforcement in the seizures of 65,000 fentanyl pills marked with an M30 imprint and about 30 pounds of other drugs in King County, Washington. 

Sheriff's deputies in Pima County, Arizona seized  277,000 suspected fentanyl pills during a traffic stop on I-10.

In Washington, deputies with the King County Sheriff’s Office confiscated more than 60,000 fentanyl pills and approximately 30 pounds of other drugs after a two-month investigation into drug sales in and around Burien and White Center.

After a two-year investigation, police in Framingham, Massachusetts arrested 13 and seized large quantities of illicit drugs, including 15,000 pills made of fentanyl and meth, as well as jewelry, cars, guns, and over $100,000 in cash. Some of the pills contained xylazine, a dangerous, non-opioid animal tranquilizer that does not respond to naloxone.

Fentanyl pill seizures also happened in Santa Rosa, California; Cañon City, Colorado; Bedford, Indiana; Corinth, Mississippi; Deschutes County, Oregon; La Center, Washington; and Cleveland, Wisconsin.

Public Health News

School district officials in Anchorage, Alaska reported that five students have been treated for fentanyl poisoning since January 1. The incidents have happened during school hours, but off school grounds.

After five fentanyl poisonings in a 36-hour period, police in Boulder, Colorado warned residents about a white M30 pill with blue specks that they found in one victims’ belongings.

International News

COFEPRIS warned about counterfeit versions of the diabetes drug Janumet, and the analgesics Tylex, Agin, Nordinet Adulto, and Graneodin B.

Libya’s Food and Drug Control Centre reported the seizure of 12 different types of counterfeit medicines.