The state is stepping up public awareness efforts in response to an influx of fake prescription drugs containing fentanyl that have appeared in the state.
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Bayens says the pills are produced primarily in Mexico.
“The pill presses used by cartels can create near-perfect reproductions of common prescription drugs. As a result, even our own agents are now trained to treat every prescription pill they encounter as if it contains fentanyl,” says Bayens.
Bayens says the procedures for mixing what goes into the pills aren’t as sophisticated as the production process – and that leads to deadly pills. “The Drug Enforcement Administration has discovered that four out of ten counterfeit pills submitted to their lab contain a lethal dose,” he says. “If we apply this data point to Iowa, over 28,000 lethal doses of fentanyl were seized. In the first six months only.
Bayens says the amount of fentanyl that is lethal can fit on a pencil lead. Too much fentanyl creates what is called a “hot batch”. He says you can help by reporting the discovery of the fake pills.
“The faster we can identify that a hot batch has made its way into a community. The sooner we can alert health officials, educate the public and begin enforcement actions aimed at stopping its deadly effects,” according to Bayens. Every tip that hits the hotline and is submitted to us via an anonymous email is distributed to one of our 17 field offices across the state.
He says the pills are dangerous to handle and you shouldn’t try to get rid of them yourself. Bayens says it’s also important for the lab to examine the pills to try to determine their composition. Anyone who finds a counterfeit pill is encouraged to call the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement’s Anonymous Hotline at (800) 532-0052 or [email protected] and in case of emergency, dial 911.
Bayens says the most common pills are designed to look like the powerful painkiller oxycontin.
“These are smaller blue pills marked M 30. And these are actually the pharmaceutical brands of oxycontin. And so the vast majority of what we’re seeing right now and the vast majority of seizures appear to be oxycontin. They are stamped in blue about the same size and are marked M 30,” he says.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state is considering targeting young people to try to educate them more on the issue. “The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services will roll out an expansion of its multimedia public health campaign targeting tweens to young adults, which currently focuses on suicide prevention to include new messages about the dangers of fentanyl. says Reynolds.
The focus on fentanyl comes after overdose deaths in Cass and Shelby counties uncovered a fentanyl distribution ring in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. For 24-hour confidential support and more information about fentanyl and counterfeit pills, or resources about opioids or other substance use disorders, visit www.YourLifeIowa.org.