August 21, 2023: National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day 2023 and an FDA warning about toxic supplements.

This week: Poisonous “Nuez de la India” made with yellow oleander. More about black market weight loss medicine. Federal authorities arrested a fugitive for selling fake COVID preventatives. News about counterfeit pills in 24 states.

Read the CDC's Facts about fentanyl.

On National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day, the Partnership for Safe Medicines acknowledges the terrible toll fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are taking on Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there were over 77,000 drug deaths involving synthetic opioids in the U.S. in 2022, and a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost one in ten Americians have lost a family member to drugs.

We’re joining fentanyl awareness groups in urging you to talk to your family about fentanyl. Consult PSM’s Talk To Your Family About Fentanyl page for links to help with that conversation.

Advocates continue to speak about losing loved ones to deceptive counterfeit pills made with fentanyl and other dangerous substances. This week family members in California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Nebraska and Texas shared their stories.

National News

FDA warned about supplements made with toxic yellow oleander.  Another patient reported harm from black market weight loss medicine. A fugitive was arrested for selling a fake COVID prevention product.

Some weight loss products labeled as Nuez de la India contain the toxin yellow oleander.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that weight loss products marketed on third party platforms as “Nuez de la India,” had been found to contain yellow oleander, a toxin that can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cardiac changes and more. A Maryland resident was hospitalized after consuming Nuez de la India seeds. Read the FDA alert for more information about how these products are labeled and marketed.

An August 16 Wall Street Journal article about unauthorized online sales of weight loss medicine interviewed a type one diabetic who suffered stomach paralysis and vomiting after taking black market semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy. In May, the FDA warned that legitimate semaglutide is only available with a prescription.

Federal authorities arrested a Utah man for allegedly posing as a doctor to sell fake COVID-19 cures online. Gordon Hunter Pedersen, who sold a silver product that he claimed prevented the spread of the virus by vibrating at a frequency that destroyed it, had been a fugitive since he was indicted in 2020.

A nurse in Palm Beach, Florida warned about the danger of supplements that contain tianeptine that almost killed a friend. The drug, which is also called Zaza, is often found over the counter at gas stations, smoke shops and convenience stores and has been banned in eight states.

International News

Authorities in Thailand cracked down on fake drug sales in Bangkok.

Authorities in Thailand raided Bangkok drug stores alleged to be selling cough syrup for illicit use, seizing hundreds of unauthorized medicines. The action is part of a crackdown that has led to the arrest of 30 unlicensed pharmacies and the confiscation of over 700 counterfeit and unregistered medications, almost 25,000 bottles of cough syrup and thousands of opioids and other illicit prescription drugs.

Health Canada warned residents to avoid unauthorized sexual enhancement, skin lightening treatments and workout supplements being sold across Canada.

Thai authorities seized unauthorized and counterfeit medicines in Bangkok pharmacies. Image:


A South Dakota man was jailed for selling illegally imported prescription painkillers. News about counterfeit pill cases in 16 states, including pill presses in South Carolina and New York, and a case involving pills made of cocaine and methamphetamine.

Examples of tapentadol tablets seized at the Chicago International Mail Facility, published in July 2021. (Image: CBP)

Dana Aman, a 54-year-old resident of Mobridge, South Dakota, received an 18-month federal prison sentence for illegally importing tens of thousands of pills that purported to be tapentadol and redistributing them to people across the U.S.

A federal judge in the  Eastern District of Virginia sentenced Justin Udvardi of Glendale, Arizona to 42 months in prison for selling fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone, MDMA and methamphetamine via the dark web.

Cass County, Iowa residents Collin Jacob Clarken and Colby Ray Clarken received prison sentences of 21 and 20 years, respectively, for their roles in a fentanyl pill ring active between August 2019 and June 2022. According to court documents, the 10,000 fentanyl pills they sold caused at least two poisoning deaths.

In Wyoming, Eric Macormic was sentenced to four-to-eight years in prison for selling fentanyl pills to a Sheridan man who died after taking them in January 2023.

Kelly Brosky of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl. Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized over 6,000 fentanyl pills and $293,000 from Brosky’s home in March 2022 after they learned that multiple pill press machines had been sent to her address.

In Mississippi, Carlos Armando Rabago-Torres received an 18-year sentence for fentanyl trafficking. He delivered a teddy bear stuffed with more than 5,000 fake oxycodone pills made of fentanyl to an undercover agent in Gulfport in June 2022.

Columbia, South Carolina resident Erick Stewart, 28, was sentenced to more than 17 years in federal prison on gun and drugs charges. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department seized two kinds of counterfeit pills from Stewart’s home in May 2021. One kind was made of fluorofentanyl, fentanyl, meth, and tramadol; the other contained methamphetamine and cocaine.

Amber Schatz of Wading River, New York received a 10-year sentence for drug trafficking after police found a pill press, oxycodone, and illicit drugs in her home in February 2020. Schatz’ housemate, Curtis Prussick, received a 17-and-a-half year sentence for drug distribution charges that included distributing a substance that caused the death of a person earlier this month.

People in Hopkinsville and Muncie, Indiana (1, 2); Salina, Kansas; Belleville, Missouri; Lincoln, Nebraska and Barron, Wisconsin were charged with counterfeit pill deaths or poisonings.

Defendants were sentenced for charges related to possession or trafficking of counterfeit pills in Fresno, California; Pasco County, Florida; Tupelo, Mississippi; Dawson County, Nebraska; Halfmoon, New York; Guymon, Oklahoma; Greenwood, South Carolina; Rapid City, South Dakota; Wise County, Virginia (1 | 2); Seattle, Washington; Ripley, West Virginia.


Counterfeit pill seizures in nine states.

Law enforcement agencies in Wichita, Kansas announced that they had seized almost 73,000 fentanyl pills and more than ten pounds of other illicit drugs during an initiative called Operation Triple Beam, which was carried out over two ten-day periods this summer.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Phoenix seized 50,000 fentanyl pills and arrested three men during the bust of an alleged drug trafficking ring on August 10.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety reported the seizure of almost ten-and-a-half pounds of fentanyl pills in Payson on August 10. Another 49,500 pills suspected to contain fentanyl and over 22 pounds of fentanyl powder were seized in a second traffic stop on August 16.

Counterfeit pills were also confiscated in Decatur, Alabama; Fort Hall, Idaho; Moorhead, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Amarillo, Texas and Naches, Washington.

10.4 pounds of fentanyl pills and three guns seized in Payson, Arizona, August 2023 (Image: Arizona Department of Public Safety)