July 5, 2023: Federal authorities move on black market HIV drug sales

This week: The FDA warned Safe Chain Solutions for trading with unlicensed sellers.   Prosecutions of other black market HIV drug distributors are moving forward. The CDC reported a spike in fentanyl/xylazine deaths. Authorities seized a pill press, illegally imported codeine and millions of counterfeit pills made of fentanyl. Prosecutions involved the trafficking of and deaths related to fentanyl pills in 10 states.

National News

Criminal and regulatory consequences emerge for black market HIV med sales. CDC data shows that almost 10% of fentanyl deaths also involve xylazine. The DEA called out social media platforms for drug sales.

PSM has been covering this story since counterfeit versions of HIV treatments were found in U.S. pharmacies at the end of 2020 and in 2021. Learn more here.

Defendants in Gilead Sciences’ wide ranging lawsuit against a network of pharmacies and distributors responsible for putting 85,000 counterfeit bottles of HIV medicines on U.S. pharmacies’ shelves are seeing additional consequences.

CDC data shows a 276 percent increase in drug deaths from a combination of fentanyl and xylazine between January 2019 and June 2022. That increase partly reflects increased testing for xylazine, but records from 31 states and the District of Columbia still show xylazine in nine percent of deaths involving illicit fentanyl over the last 18 months.

Speaking on Meet the Press, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram took social media companies to task for not shutting down drug sales on their platforms.

Parents in Oregon and Virginia spoke about the dangers of fentanyl, sharing stories about loved ones who died after taking counterfeit pills. An 18-year-old in Washington who is in recovery for fentanyl addiction after using fake Percocet is also spreading the word.

International News

The U.K. continues to prosecute DNP sellers. Iraq seizes 250,000 Captagon pills. Fake medicines reported in Cuba, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Captagon seizures like this one in Italy in June 2022 have become a regular occurrence in recent years (Source: CNN)

A gym owner in Scotland received a three year sentence for making and selling as many as 10,000 DNP capsules as a weight loss product. It’s the same substance that led to retired doctor William Merlino’s sentencing last month.

Iraqi authorities seized 250,000 Captagon pills at a school in a province bordering Syria. The pills, which take the form of a German prescription stimulant that was banned in the 1980s, are widely trafficked in the Middle East.

Cuba's Regulatory Authority of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices warned that it had found counterfeit versions of the antihistamine ketotifen, the benzodiazepine clonazepam and a vitamin supplement called Neurobion circulating in the country.

Fake drug seizures were also reported in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.


News about prosecutions involving fentanyl pills in 10 states.

PSM curates resources about counterfeit drug incidents by state. Learn about Oregon's substantial history of fake medicine, or look up a different state.

David Weaver received a 150-month federal prison sentence for distributing counterfeit prescription pills made with fentanyl. He is one of four people in a distribution chain that ended with the death of a man in Hillsboro, Oregon in 2021.

Dylan Wilson and Scott Keeling will spend 96 months in federal prison for supplying the M30 pills made with fentanyl that killed a 15-year-old in Yamhill, Oregon. The teen, Marie Prine, ordered the pills on Snapchat with a friend during a sleepover in July 2021.

Stephanie Kightlinger of Youngsville, Pennsylvania received a sentence of nine months to two years for dealing the counterfeit pills made with fentanyl that killed a man in January 2023. The transaction was arranged via Facebook Messenger

State and federal courts charged defendants in cases involving counterfeit pills that killed or harmed people in San Jose, California, Manhattan, Kansas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Blue Earth County, St. Cloud, and St. Paul, Minnesota; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Portland, Oregon and Casper, Wyoming,

People were also convicted or sentenced in cases involving counterfeit pills in Bemidji, and St. Paul, Minnesota; Rock Hill, South Carolina and the Rock Boy’s Indian Reservation in Montana.


Seizures of codeine syrup in Philadelphia, a pill press in Florida and millions of fentanyl pills in Arizona, California and Idaho.

Customs and Border Patrol officers intercepted six 17-ounce bottles of codeine syrup on its way from the United Kingdom to an address in Philadelphia. The shipment was manifested as “vegetable glycerin.”

Deputies in Polk County, Florida busted a drug operation in Winter Haven, seizing a pill press and more than three and a half kilos of cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine and other drugs.

Police in Phoenix, Arizona seized a million fentanyl pills from a car during the traffic stop of a man they were investigating for fentanyl-trafficking.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California intercepted nearly 900,000 fentanyl pills that were concealed inside of porcelain sinks.

Investigators in Idaho Falls, Idaho seized 73,000 counterfeit pills made with fentanyl, among other drugs, during a bust on June 27.

Counterfeit pills were also confiscated in Safford, Arizona; Camarillo, California;  Naples, Florida and  Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Dark bottles with white labels that say "vegetable glycerin.”

Bottles labeled “vegetable glycerin” that actually contained codeine syrup. (CBP, June 2023)