As a result of the opioid crisis, people struggling with addiction often seek medication outside of their pharmacies. But when drugs are purchased from dealers and other unvetted sources, the buyer can never be sure of exactly what they are getting. Whether for lifestyle needs (erectile dysfunction) or lifesaving needs (heart disease), many different illegally-obtained medications can indeed be counterfeit and not useful for their intended purposes. 

Moreover, counterfeits are often laced with deadly substances like fentanyl, an opioid fifty times stronger than heroin.  Most people who encounter fentanyl take it without meaning to. Street dealers will often add it to drugs so that users experience a more potent high, but it is incredibly easy to suffer an overdose. Traffickers are increasingly selling fentanyl in the form of counterfeit prescription pills, often without mixing it. 

Another issue with counterfeit drugs arises when young people attempt to obtain medications for anxiety or stress. These pain relievers and anxiety drugs are most often abused by young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. But when they are purchased illegally – whether bought on line, on campus, or on the street – they are most often counterfeit. Law enforcement regularly encounters versions of these drugs that have been laced with fentanyl. 

It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between an authentic prescription pill and a counterfeit look alike. While some may be chipped or cracked, have an unusual smell or taste, cause unusual reactions – these counterfeits often look like the real thing. 

If the packaging seems odd or is missing the explanation of the medicine’s risks and benefits, that’s a good indication it is not real. However, the best way to ensure your safety, is to only take medicine prescribed directly to you by your doctor and filled at a legitimate pharmacy. Buying outside the regulated medical system puts you at risk for counterfeit products with unknown additives and effects. 

The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is raising awareness about these dangers by speaking to a wide variety of external audiences including patients, health authorities, healthcare providers, and policymakers. They are also regularly reaching out to public and private partners to collaborate on ways to address the problem.

As always, parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children about the dangers of taking take medicine without a prescription and the deadly consequences of taking a pill without knowing what’s in it. After all, it only takes one... there is no second chance!