‘Mexican Oxy’ Flooding U.S. Black Market

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

New York City police and DEA agents have announced the seizure of 20,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills made with illicit fentanyl. The pills, which have an estimated street value of $600,000, are blue in color and stamped “M” on one side and “30” on the other, making them virtually indistinguishable from prescription oxycodone.

The fentanyl pills are believed to have originated in Mexico. Known on the street as “Mexican Oxy,” the highly potent counterfeit pills are often cheaper and easier to obtain than pharmaceutical-grade oxycodone. Black market 30 mg oxycodone pills sell on the street for $9 to $30 each and are surfacing around the country.

“If you take prescription pills that did not come directly from a pharmacy, you are risking your life,” said New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan. “Throughout New York City, we have seen a spate of cases involving tens of thousands of potentially lethal fentanyl pills masquerading as oxycodone.

“Just because black market pills have the same color and design as legitimate pills, it does not mean they are safe. The ingredients and potency are all unknown, and minuscule amounts of fentanyl can cause overdose or death. Consuming a counterfeit pill is akin to playing Russian Roulette.”

Overdose deaths in New York City are at record-high levels and fentanyl is involved in over half of them. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. A customer accustomed to taking oxycodone would not necessarily have the tolerance to ingest illicit fentanyl without suffering an overdose.

DEA PHOTO

DEA PHOTO

Fentanyl powder is typically produced by illicit labs in China and then smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico. The powder is transformed into tablets by pill presses purchased online and then sold by drug traffickers. Four arrests in New York were made in connection with the latest seizure.

“These arrests highlight a growing trend in illicit street drugs which increases the risk of drug overdose,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan. “Traffickers are mass producing pseudo-pharmaceutical pills made of heroin, fentanyl and other illicit drugs in makeshift laboratories throughout New York City. These pills attract users because they are more convenient and less conspicuous; but users should beware because they are unregulated and lethal.”

Fentanyl Seizures at Mexican Border

Mexican Oxy is also blamed for a rash of overdoses in Arizona, where fentanyl deaths have tripled in recent years.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen in 30 years, this toll that it’s taken on families,” Doug Coleman, DEA Special Agent in Charge of Arizona told the Associated Press. “The crack (cocaine) crisis was not as bad.”  

Last month, the U.S. Border Patrol announced its biggest fentanyl seizure ever — over 250 pounds were found in a truckload of cucumbers at a border crossing in Nogales, Arizona.

Most of the fentanyl was in powder form and over two pounds were made up of pills. Together, they had the potential to kill millions of people.  

Just because black market pills have the same color and design as legitimate pills, it does not mean they are safe.
— Bridget Brennan, NYC Narcotics Prosecutor

Most of the fentanyl seized by law enforcement is found hidden inside vehicles at official border crossings around Nogales and San Diego, according to the AP. Smaller shipments of fentanyl are sent directly to the U.S. from China through the mail. The Postal Service’s Inspector General recently reported that over 90 percent of illegal online pharmacies use the mail to ship illicit drugs.

The Postal Service is prohibited from opening packages without a search warrant and is obligated to accept inbound international mail. This makes it more difficult for postal inspectors to identify and track packages suspected of containing illicit drugs. By comparison, private carriers are able to open and inspect packages and can track shipments from beginning to end.

The Inspector General recommended that Congress pass legislation that would give postal inspectors authorization to open and inspect domestic packages suspected of carrying illicit drugs.

New Efforts to Ban Kratom in Florida and New York

By Pat Anson, Editor

Federal efforts to ban kratom may be on the back burner – for now --- but that isn’t stopping lawmakers in Florida and New York from introducing bills that would make the sale of kratom illegal in those states.

Millions of Americans use the herbal supplement to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, addiction and chronic pain.

Florida State Rep. Kristin Jacobs (D) has reintroduced legislation that would add mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine – the two active ingredients in kratom – to the state’s list of controlled substances.  Selling, manufacturing or importing kratom in Florida would be a criminal misdemeanor if the bill becomes law.

Similar legislation has been reintroduced in New York by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D), which would make the sale and distribution of kratom punishable with a fine of $2,000. After a third offense, retailers caught selling kratom would also lose their licenses to sell lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco – a far bigger financial penalty.

A request for an interview with Gunther went unanswered.

“This would be the nail in the kratom coffin for New York wouldn't it?” said Fred Kaeser, the former Director of Health for New York City’s public schools.

Kaeser started using kratom a few months ago and found that it relieved his chronic back pain and reduced his need of opioid pain medication.

“So I find something that helps me to minimize my opioid consumption for my severe chronic pain, and this bill will now force me to reconsider resuming that opioid consumption. Truly amazing isn't it? Let's ban the very substance that helps you to limit your opioid intake,” said Kaeser in an email.

“Why ban something that has very limited empirical research behind it? Yet what research that does exist on kratom suggests promise as a real alternative to opioids. Why not advocate for more research to determine the true risk-benefit of this plant rather than a bill that shuts down that potential promise altogether?”

Kratom or its active ingredients are already illegal in six states (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin), and came close to being banned nationwide last year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced plans in August for the emergency scheduling of kratom as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, the same classification given to heroin, LSD and marijuana. The DEA called kratom “an imminent hazard to public safety” and cited anecdotal reports that the herb was linked to several deaths.  

The emergency scheduling was withdrawn after an unprecedented lobbying campaign by kratom users, retailers and some members of Congress.  Over 23,000 comments were made on a federal website – the vast majority of them supporting the continued classification of kratom as a dietary supplement. The DEA said it would reevaluate its decision and ask the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a full scientific and medical review of kratom.  

Three previous attempts to ban the herb in Florida have failed, but Rep. Jacobs is not giving up. She calls kratom a “scourge on society” and said the American Kratom Association was spreading lies about the herb’s medical value.

“They have a story,” Jacobs told the Florida Politics blog. “Just like Hitler believed if you tell a lie over and over again, it becomes the truth.

“The Kratom Association stands to lose a lot of money if they aren’t able to continue profiting off the misery of addicts.”

In 2015, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a report stating that “no pervasive health issues” have been attributed to kratom and the herb “does not constitute a significant risk to the safety or welfare of Florida residents.”

A survey of over 6,400 kratom users by Pain News Network and the American Kratom Assocation found that 98 percent did not consider kratom a harmful or dangerous substance. Three out of four also said they did not get "high" from using kratom.