By Pat Anson, Editor
A fifth fatal overdose in Georgia has been linked to counterfeit painkillers being sold on the street as Percocet. 34-year old Robert Ketchup of Macon died Sunday in the intensive care unit of a hospital after he was found unconscious in his mother’s home on Thursday. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ketchup “had a bunch of pills on him.”
In the past week, five deaths and dozens of hospitalizations have been linked to the yellow, oval shaped pills that have been circulating in central Georgia.
An analysis of the pills by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found that they contained two synthetic opioids, cyclopropyl fentanyl and U-47700. The bureau says both drugs are “highly dangerous.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has been warning for over a year about counterfeit prescription drugs laced with fentanyl “inundating” the U.S. Until now, most of the fake pills have been disguised to look like the painkiller oxycodone or Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication.
“The counterfeit pills have the numbers 10/325 on one side and the word PERCOCET in all capital letters on the opposite side. On the counterfeit pills the word PERCOCET is not stamped as deep as the manufacturer typically does on their pills. Also on the counterfeit pills, the imprint of the name is also at an angle,” the Bibb County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. “Everyone is strongly encouraged to treat these pills or anything resembling these pills as hazardous.”
No arrests have been made and the source of the counterfeit pills is still unknown.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and can be lethal in very small doses. It is available legally by prescription in patches, lozenges and sprays to treat severe pain, but illicitly manufactured fentanyl smuggled in from Mexico and China is blamed for thousands of overdose deaths in the U.S. and Canada.
Unsuspecting buyers, including some pain patients who were unable to get opioid medication legally, have no idea the drug they’re getting from a dealer or friend could be lethal.
"Mexican drug cartels are manufacturing fentanyl into Percocet pills, and oxycodone and other type pills as well, but it's a way for these bad people to make a very good living on the backs of addiction and that's what they are targeting," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Dan Salter.
The fentanyl problem appears to be growing worse, as even small-time drug dealers realize they can easily order the chemicals needed to make fentanyl, manufacture their own fake pills, and make millions of dollars selling them on the black market.
Last week federal agents seized 50 kilograms of N-Phenethyl-4-piperidinone (NPP), a fentanyl precursor, from a storage facility in Northborough, Massachusetts. Some of the boxes seized were marked UPS and “priority mail.” Others were labeled with Chinese characters.
If converted, the NPP could have theoretically been used to make 19 million fentanyl tablets, with a street value of $570 million.
Nearly 80 percent of the people who died of an overdose in Massachusetts last year ingested fentanyl.