NASHVILLE - Special Agents with the Drug Investigation Division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are warning the public about a recent dramatic increase in the prevalence of counterfeit prescription drugs in Tennessee.
In recent days, Agents in the Middle Tennessee area have seen a spike in adulterated Percocet pills being sold on the street and are warning users that these counterfeit pills have deadly consequences. Active and ongoing investigations continue into the source of these pills.
About 15 people overdosed last week in Rutherford County from an apparent counterfeit Percocet pill laced with a potent painkiller believed to be Fentanyl, a prescription medicine used on cancer patients, the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office said.
Sheriff Robert Arnold said a multi-agency investigation is ongoing.
"We are warning people about the dangers of the non-prescription drug use and urging people to stop using the illegal drugs sold on the street," Sheriff Arnold said. "These drugs are extremely dangerous and potentially deadly."
A Sheriff's Office narcotics supervisor said Fentanyl will quickly depress the nervous system and respiratory system, causing distress, disorientation, coughing and cardiac arrest if absorbed, ingested or inhaled. The drug is so potent it can be quickly absorbed through the skin.
A Drug Enforcement Administration leader said Fentanyl is 40 to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine and even minimal exposure can be life threatening.
Percocet is used to relieve moderate to severe pain while Fentanyl is one of the strongest opiate drugs on the market used to prevent pain directly after surgery in hospitals. The drug being sold on the streets is not Percocet at all, it is tweaked or re-calibrated Fentanyl which is actually 50 times (or more) stronger than heroin. Reports indicate that drug traffickers may be changing the chemical compounds of Fentanyl and making it stronger and later selling it as Percocet.
These counterfeit drugs have a very similar look and appearance to legitimate Percocet pills, but contain potentially lethal ingredients that cause law enforcement officials immediate concern. Numerous overdoses across Middle Tennessee are being attributed to this batch of dangerous drugs, and agents are warning users that more overdoses and deaths are likely as these pills make their way to users.
"We want to make the public abundantly clear that these pills being made in clandestine labs present a very real and life-threatening danger to anyone who takes them," says TBI Deputy Director Jason Locke. "We can't stress enough that the pills people buy on the streets can and do contain deadly elements."
In the last year, dozens of case submissions from counties across Tennessee have shared a common, concerning trend: Pills shaped, colored, and stamped to look like a particular type of prescription medication have proven to be something different in laboratory analysis.
For example, in May 2015, a Tennessee law enforcement agency recovered what appeared to be several 30mg pills of oxycodone during a traffic stop. Each was the same size and featured the signature A/215 stamp characteristic of oxycodone. However, laboratory analysis performed by TBI Forensic Scientists indicated the pills were counterfeit and did not contain oxycodone. Instead, they contained fentanyl, a pain killer 50 times as potent as heroin that can be deadly in high doses.