It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your pills are being produced? Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and a bipartisan group of senators want to help you sleep easy over that issue.
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control is reintroducing legislation known as the Stop Pills That Kill Act, the concern being that people are dying from counterfeit medications laced with deadly fentanyl and other drugs.
Hassan serves on the caucus and has made the overdose epidemic a priority. She said Granite Staters are dying from fentanyl overdoses at alarming rates, which is why she is urging her colleagues to support this bill and continue working together to combat the fentanyl crisis.
“This bipartisan bill takes important steps to crack down on criminals who are producing and distributing deadly counterfeit pills,” Hassan said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues to support this bill that increases penalties on drug traffickers. As Granite Staters continue to die from fentanyl overdoses at alarming rates, we must keep working together to combat the fentanyl crisis.”
And a crisis it is. In addition to the increasing number of overdose deaths reported in Manchester and Nashua, counterfeit pills are also claiming lives.
In 2020, a 19-year-old named Tyler Cahill died in his New Hampshire home after taking what he thought was a Percocet. It turned out that it was a fake pill containing fentanyl.
“I miss him terribly,” Tyler’s mother, Andrea told WMUR.com. “There is not a day I do not cry for him.”
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is co-chair of the caucus and says the problem is happening nationwide.
“Families are burying their loved ones who were lost to accidental poisoning from counterfeit pills,” said Grassley in a press release. “Knockoff pills have become a highly lethal and rapidly evolving front in the drug epidemic.”
A fact sheet on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) website warns visitors that counterfeit pills are nearly identical to actual prescription medications. So, for example, many counterfeit pills resemble oxycodone 30mg pills (M30s), but DEA says they can also mimic hydrocodone, alprazolam (Xanax), Adderall, and other medications.
“There are indications that drug trafficking organizations are specifically targeting kids and teens by creating counterfeit pills in a variety of shapes and bright colors to appeal to that age group,” says DEA.
To combat the problem, Grassley said legislators want to stiffen penalties to deter faux drug makers from getting involved in pill pushing.
According to the senators, one kilogram of fentanyl can kill half a million people. Meanwhile, fentanyl is now the leading cause of death among Americans 18 to 45. That is why the Stop Pills That Kill Act would see to it that current penalties for possessing paraphernalia used to make meth would also apply to possessing things used to make phony pills containing methamphetamine, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogs.
Alysa Erichs, with United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT), says that the right move. Erichs told NHJournal that criminals are always looking for new ways to make money.
“Today, counterfeit pills are flooding the U.S. from China and drug cartels operating south of the border,” said Erichs, former Acting Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The results can be deadly, victims’ families warn.
“It is important that people understand that it can happen to anybody,” Deric Kidd told KCCI.com. “We all want to think that it’s not going to happen to my kid, but I’d be at the point now where I wouldn’t want to risk it because I know it takes minutes or seconds for them to die.”
Kidd’s son, Sebastian, died in July 2021. Like Tyler Cahill, Sebastian took a pill that he assumed was one thing and turned out to be something else laced with fentanyl.
Geography is contributing to the problem in New Hampshire as well. “Over the past 20 years, New Hampshire has experienced surges in narcotic sales,” according to USA-IT. “The Interstate 93 and Interstate 95 Corridors provide ample opportunities for drug trafficking, particularly serving as a pipeline from Massachusetts.”
Erichs said protecting Americans from criminal activity is “paramount.” And just as Hassan urged legislators to work together, so did Erichs.
“Only by working together across aisles, industries, and sectors will real, meaningful change come,” said Erichs.