Thousands of fentanyl pills seized in Michigan under DEA initiative


Federal authorities seized about 10 million fake pills containing fentanyl instead of a prescription drug, including 4 million doses strong enough to kill in Michigan and Ohio, between May 23 and September 8 in the part of a national enforcement initiative targeting the synthetic opioid.

The Drug Enforcement Administration concluded phase three of its One Pill Can Kill initiative on September 8. Authorities also seized nearly 1,000 pounds of powdered fentanyl nationwide, according to Orville Greene, special agent in charge, DEA’s Detroit Field Division.

Four million lethal doses of fentanyl were seized in Michigan and Ohio between May 23 and September 8; most were seized in Ohio, Greene said. 40% of the pills analyzed by the DEA contained a fatal dose of fentanyl.

During Phase 3 of the enforcement initiative, 2,586 fentanyl pills were seized in Michigan, compared to 87,120 pills and 165 pounds of powdered fentanyl in Ohio. The DEA said the drug problem was no worse in Ohio than in Michigan, but several drug smuggling attempts intercepted in Toledo and Dayton were likely headed to Michigan.

The DEA launched the One Pill Can Kill enforcement effort in September to combat the threat of fentanyl disguised as fake prescription drugs. Fentanyl is a lethal synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin. Cartels that mass-produce fentanyl squeeze it into fake pills that are marketed as pharmaceuticals like OxyContin, Xanax, and Adderall but don’t contain the drug. Traffickers sell these pills on social media, the DEA found. The DEA initiative aimed to educate the public and raise awareness of the threat of fake pills.

“Each phase we’re grabbing more pills, more fentanyl,” Greene said. “We’re also communicating more with our communities and what we’re seeing is an increase…so the educational part, the awareness part of our strategy is extremely important.”

Greene called fentanyl the most pressing threat to communities as rainbow fentanyl becomes more common in drug cartels. Rainbow fentanyl refers to “brightly colored fentanyl pills and also in powder form, the brightly colored powder, which the DEA says is a means of marketing to a population of users younger,” Greene said.

The leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45 is drug overdose, and in 2021 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 107,622 overdoses, most of which were due to opioids. Overdoses are expected to increase by 2024, Greene said.

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During the third phase of One Pill Can Kill, 129 trafficking investigations were linked to social media, specifically Snapchat, Greene said. He encouraged families to discuss the dangers of fake pills, making sure to include young children, especially those using social media.

“I think just starting that conversation and making them aware…and letting them know that if you’re not prescribed a pill, you shouldn’t be taking it. That’s extremely important,” Greene said. “The majority of people who take fentanyl aren’t looking for fentanyl and they have no idea what they’re ingesting.”

Fentanyl precursor chemicals are sent from China to Mexico, where fentanyl is mass-produced by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel Nueva Generacion, and smuggled across the border into the United States, Greene said. . If there is a demand for the drug, the cartels will have a local presence, including in southeast Michigan. The DEA has seized rainbow fentanyl in southeast Michigan in recent months, Greene said.

“Fentanyl is not made locally,” Greene said. “The cartels have subsidiaries all over the country.”

Cartels use the anonymity of social media and things like brightly colored emoji codes to market fentanyl and other opioids to children and young adults.

“It’s a marketing ploy. Where are the people you’re trying to reach? … Where is your demographic? You’re looking at a younger demographic, again with rainbow fentanyl,” said Greene. “Snapchat is what we mostly see. … It’s because of the anonymity … the end-to-end encryption and the fact that these messages disappear after a while.”

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