September 5, 2023: U.S. fake pill deaths more than doubled from July 2019 to December 2021

This week: CDC data shows an alarming climb in pill deaths, particularly in western states. Narcan is available over-the-counter. Fake medicine seized in Las Vegas. News involving counterfeit pills in 17 states.

National News

Counterfeit pill deaths more than doubled between 2019 and 2021. Pharmacy chains will carry Narcan OTC. A warning about fake pills made with bromazolam in Indiana.

A study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report showed that drug deaths linked to counterfeit pill use more than doubled in thirty U.S. states and the District of Columbia between the third quarter of 2019 and the fourth quarter of 2021. The increase was particularly acute In western states, where the percentage of drug deaths linked to fake pills climbed from 4.7 to 14.7 percent.

The study’s authors note that these statistics, which reflect thousands of deaths, are likely undercounts.

CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Walmart and Kroger announced that they will begin selling the overdose reversal medicine Narcan over-the-counter in early September. Learn how to use the drug on PSM’s Talk to Your Family page.

Family advocates in California, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington spoke about losing loved ones to deceptive counterfeit pills made with fentanyl.

Authorities in Fort Wayne, Indiana warned residents about counterfeit Xanax made of bromazolam, a “designer” sedative that public health experts have been finding in the U.S. street drug supply since 2019.

International News

Deaths from fake pregabalin in Northern Ireland. News about black market medicines in the U.K., Ireland and Thailand.

Police in Northern Ireland reported that three Derry residents had died after taking pregabalin tablets laced with other substances.

Five U.K. residents from the area of Wolverhampton, England were charged with supplying prescription-only sleeping pills, painkillers and epilepsy and anxiety medicines through illegal websites.

Irish authorities announced that seizures of black market Ozempic, Wegovy and Saxenda had risen 85 percent over last year.

Thailand’s Department of Medical Sciences warned residents about counterfeit versions of nimetazepam, an anticonvulsant and sedative.

Black market versions of pregabalin, which treats epilepsy and nerve pain, have also been linked to deaths in England and Wales, and have been seized in Dubai, India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka since 2020.


A Colorado man will spend two years in prison for selling smuggled prescription drugs online. Cases involving pill presses and counterfeit pills made with methamphetamine, fentanyl, xylazine in ten states.


Gagne is the ninth person to be sentenced in this case. Learn more about it by watching our March 2022 video.

Colorado resident Brendon Gagne, who ran a website that sold unapproved prescription drugs to counteract the effects of steroids, received a two-year federal prison sentence for prescription drug smuggling and money laundering.

In California, Vicente David Romero was found guilty of second-degree murder for providing the pill that killed 26-year-old Kelsey King of Temecula. Romero shared half a pill with her in June 2020.

Julius Rucks of Oroville, California received a 153-month prison sentence for distribution of fentanyl pills. Agents found a pill press and pill dies for making counterfeit pills, powdered fentanyl and other pill making materials in Ruck’s home after he sold them over 1,000 fake oxycodone pills made with fentanyl in 2018 and 2019.

Ishmaaiyl Fariyd Abdullah, formerly of Norristown, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to three to six years in state prison after he admitted delivering the fake Percocet made with fentanyl that killed Jade Sutton in August 2022.

Erika Prado of Hyde Park, Massachusetts pleaded guilty to her role in a drug distribution ring. The search of a co-defendant's Mattapan apartment in 2022 allegedly yielded over 20 kilograms of fentanyl pills, over 20 kilograms of loose fentanyl powder, three industrial grade pill presses as well as heroin and cocaine.

Igor Desouza of Malden, Massachusetts pleaded guilty to pill trafficking. A search of his in May 2021 yielded methamphetamine pills disguised as Adderall or Xanax (some of which also contained MDMA)  and fentanyl pills (some of which also contained xylazine) disguised as oxycodone.

Two people in White County, Arkansas are facing charges related to the counterfeit pill death of a 35-year-old Kensett resident on August 27.

Additional defendants were convicted or sentenced for charges related to possession or trafficking of counterfeit pills in Tucson, Arizona; Stockton, California; Boise and Nampa, Idaho; Great Falls, Montana; Las Vegas, Nevada;  KennewickKent, Richland (1, 2), and Tacoma, Washington; Casper and Laramie County, Wyoming.


Fake prescription drugs seized in Nevada stores. Counterfeit pill seizures in eight states

Nevada’s Attorney General announced the seizure of 20,000 doses of fake and mislabeled medicines and controlled substances from two North Las Vegas businesses on August 30.

Counterfeit pills disguised as oxycodone, Adderall and Xanax were confiscated in Hesperia, California; Marion, Indiana; Denham Springs and  Monroe, Louisiana; Portland, Maine; Sterling Heights, Michigan; Fishkill, New York;  Dyersburg, Tennessee and Denton, Texas.

Pills seized in Portland, Maine, August 2023