By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
This week a chilling BBC documentary took viewers inside a dingy underground lab in the UK where counterfeit Xanax pills are made – often laced with illicit fentanyl and other dangerous chemicals.
One dealer bragged to BBC reporter Livvy Haydock that he could make 42,000 Xanax pills in three hours.
"I import the raw ingredients and chemicals needed and then I press the tablets with a tablet press machine,” he said.
"I've been doing this for many years and I've never been at the point where I can produce and supply enough to meet the demand for my product. I'm always turning away customers.”
The fake anti-anxiety pills are manufactured in a converted cement mixer and tested on volunteer “guinea pigs” before being sold on the street, often to teenagers.
"They're taking that risk, they're paying the money. I'll make it and I'll do it as best as I can and I'll give a good service and provide a good product and the rest is on them," the dealer said.
He boasted that overworked customs officials send him warning letters when his shipments are seized, but they rarely tell police.
"I've had plenty of packages stopped from customs to addresses. A lot of the time you just receive a letter saying it's been seized,” he explained. “"They don't really follow it up. Sometimes they do, but the majority of the time they don't.”
A similar problem exists in the United States, where the Postal Service processes and delivers nearly half of the world’s mail. Postal inspectors can’t even open suspicious packages without a search warrant.
“Drug traffickers have familiarized themselves with and exploited vulnerabilities in the Postal Service network,” a recent Inspector General report warned. “Individuals can now order nearly any type of illicit drug online and have it delivered to a location of their choosing, all from the comfort of their own home.
“These illicit purchases often rely on mail shipment companies, including the Postal Service, to deliver products to customers as they provide greater opportunities for anonymity than other delivery options, such as human couriers.”
The Inspector General recommended that Congress pass legislation to give postal inspectors legal authorization to open and inspect domestic packages suspected of carrying illicit drugs.
According to the World Health Organization, the counterfeit drug market is worth $200 billion worldwide, with almost half of the fake and low-quality medicines sold in Africa. Up to 300,000 people may die from pneumonia and malaria every year due to substandard medications primarily made in China, India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.