June 20, 2023: L.A. Times reporters found counterfeit pills in pharmacies all across Mexico, not just at the border

This week: More than 50% of the pills investigators bought in Mexican pharmacies were fake--and many contained illicit drugs. COFEPRIS warned about fake immunosuppressants and anemia drugs. A drug dealer who targeted Carrollton, Texas teens pleaded guilty. More news about pills seizures and prosecutions in 20 states.

National News

New reporting suggests Mexican medicines are more dangerous than previously thought.


Counterfeit medicines in Mexico are not just a problem at the U.S. border. Los Angeles Times reporters who bought pills in legitimate pharmacies in tourist destinations across the entire country found that more than half of the samples they tested were fake, including opioid pills and Adderall made with illicit drugs. Even medicine that came in factory sealed bottles or from regional pharmacy chains proved to be counterfeit.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the "HALT Fentanyl Act," which would permanently make fentanyl-related substances schedule one drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Family advocates in Iowa, Montana, New York and Texas  spoke about the dangers of fentanyl, sharing stories about loved ones who died after taking counterfeit pills.

International News

Warnings in Mexico and a bust in Malaysia.

Mexico’s drug regulator, COFEPRIS, issued warnings about black market versions of an immunosuppressant for organ transplant patients, and an injectable for iron-deficiency anemia circulating in the country.

Police in Malaysia announced the bust of a counterfeit medicine lab in Taiping, Perak. It’s one of eight raids on fake medicine operations in Malaysia so far this year.


A pill dealer supplying Carrollton, Texas teens pleads guilty. More news about cases involving fentanyl pills in 11 states.

Jason Villanueva posted this to social media several days after the launch of an investigation into the Carrollton deaths. 

Jason Xavier Villanueva pleaded guilty to distributing more than 200,000 fentanyl pills to dealers in north Texas, including to a network of juvenile and adult dealers in Carrollton, where nine middle and high school students have been hospitalized for fentanyl pill poisoning and three of them have died. When two of his lower-level dealers were arrested, Villanueva, who advertised his wares on Instagram, bragged on social media, “Only thing that’s gonna stop us is feds.”

Larry Jerome Eastman of Temple Hills, Maryland, and his sister, Washington, D.C. resident Justice Michelle Eastman, were sentenced to 140 months and 37 months in prison, respectively for distributing fentanyl pills that killed another D.C. resident in April 2021.

Omaha, Nebraska resident Jerome Wallace received a 15-year prison sentence for dealing the fentanyl pill that killed Council Bluffs, Iowa resident 20-year-old Jared Ludwigs in 2021. The men' s transaction was arranged on Snapchat.

Eric Adan Herrera of Fort Worth, Texas received a 12-year prison sentence for selling 16-year-old Luke Wright the counterfeit Percocet made of fentanyl that killed him in February 2020. Herrera and Wright arranged the sale of the pills on Snapchat.

Union County, North Carolina resident Logan Ibele was convicted of second-degree murder for providing his girlfriend, 31-year-old Margaret “Maggie” Jakiela, with pressed fentanyl pills that killed her  in December 2021. Union County sheriff’s deputies seized more than 125 grams of fentanyl pills from Ibele during the investigation.

Two members of a Natrona County, Wyoming family, 81-year-old Romona Manthei and her granddaughter, Braunwyn Cheyenne Eaby, pleaded guilty for their roles in a drug distribution ring that distributed between 300 and 500 fentanyl pills a week in the Casper, Wyoming area. Manthei’s daughter, Mari June Manthei-Robinson, who ran a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention and is a former deputy county coroner, entered an Alford plea, maintaining her innocence while declining a trial. Two defendants are still being prosecuted.

Seattle, Washington resident Maximillian Gregory Verbowski pleaded guilty to distributing 630,000 counterfeit Xanax and other pills he purchased on the dark web between October 2019 and August 2021.

Juan Covarrubias-Garcia pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute after agents with the West Tennessee Drug Task Force found him in a Memphis Greyhound bus station with 5,033 fentanyl pills and almost two kilograms of other illicit drugs in November 2022.

People were also convicted or sentenced in cases involving counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in Great Falls, Montana; and Longview and Tyler, Texas; and Washington, D.C.

A woman has been charged with running "Kiki’s Delivery Service," using social media to sell counterfeit pills and other drugs to minors in and around Portland, Oregon.

A federal grand jury in Sacramento, California indicted five people for their alleged roles in a drug conspiracy that shipped hundreds of thousands of fentanyl pills, sometimes in children’s toys, around the country for more than a year. Law enforcement seized approximately 450,000 fentanyl pills connected to the conspiracy during the investigation, and believes the group shipped more than one million fentanyl pills to customers in several different states.

Read the facts of the Verbowski case in his guilty plea.


A pill press seized in Massachusetts; pill seizures in Arizona, California, Washington and 11 additional states.

Customs and Border Protection officers at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California discovered 25 pounds of fentanyl pills and 68 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in a car crossing into the  U.S. on June 12.

Police in Centralia, Washington seized roughly 200,000 suspected fentanyl pills hidden inside a vehicle after a traffic stop.

Arizona state troopers announced the seizure of 50 pounds of fentanyl pills and two-and-a-half pounds of methamphetamine during a traffic stop in Anthem on June 5. Photos showed bags full of pills stuffed inside Michelob Ultra boxes.

Law enforcement seized firearms, a pill press and suspected narcotics from a home in Methuen, Massachusetts after arresting a man who was allegedly dealing fake Adderall and oxycodone pills.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Kansas Highway Patrol arrested a man in Wichita and seized over 25,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills suspected to contain fentanyl in his possession.

There were also counterfeit pill seizures in Lewiston, Idaho; Woodland Park, Colorado; Columbus, Indiana; Sioux City, Iowa; Baton Rouge and Ponchatoula, Louisiana; Cornelius and Sanford, North Carolina; Durant, Oklahoma; Portland and Prineville, Oregon; Providence, Rhode Island; Seattle, Washington; and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Arizona troopers discovered 54 pounds of fentanyl, including this beer box full of pills, during a traffic stop Anthem. (Arizona Department of Public Safety)